To find a way to educate young people with learning disabilities. Those efforts have taken her across more than two decades and have proven to be an inspiration to others, landing her the YWCA’s Lifetime Achievement award.
The YWCA has been calling out to the community of Prince Albert to honour spectacular women in one of five categories: Arts, Culture and Heritage, Education, Business, Entrepreneurship or Leadership, Young Women’s Leadership and Lifetime Achievement.
Dewhurst is the vice president and a founding member of the Concerned Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities (CPCLD).
She has also worked at the Pine Grove Corrections Facility since 1989 and is currently the deputy director there.
Dewhurst believes the reason she received the award lies in her work in educating young people with learning disabilities.
The first task she and CPCLD took on was creating a program to educate those youth.
“What really inspired me was my son was diagnosed with learning disabilities, and getting out with other parents with children with learning disabilities. That’s what inspired me as well to find solutions for these children.”
The Carlton Connection program finally opened in 1992 after several years of research and lobbying the school board. Carlton Connections takes children from Grade 7 to 10, with learning disabilities and brings them up to speed.
“We started off with one classroom is now two fully functioning classrooms of 14 youth. Getting this started however was not easy or quick. CPCLD had to fundraise to get the first classroom opened and supplied, and that was after six years of research and lobbying.
“We had to prove to them that there were educational programs out there that were being successful at teaching students with learning disabilities,” she said.
“That was my lifetime achievement. That took many, many years to get it in place and for it to continually be successful for that last 20. That is a big accomplishment,” she said.
“Why these classrooms are very important is students need to be independent learners by Grade 7. And these students are two to three grades lower.”
“The Carlton Connections classrooms bridges that gap and give the students the tools so that they can further their education,” Dewhurst said.
Their research took them across North America and then settled in Calgary, at the Foothills Academy. The academy was founded in 1979 and was the first such school in Alberta as well as one of the first in Canada.
“That was my lifetime achievement. That took many, many years to get it in place and for it to continually be successful for that last 20. That is a big accomplishment,” she said. -
“They had programs especially designed for children with learning disabilities, and their programs were researched and based on scientific evidence and they were being very successful,” Dewhurst said.
Despite the label, these kids aren’t stupid. Indeed they must be of at least average intelligence or more and still be falling behind in school in order to be classified as having a learning disability.
“They learn differently. They have an average to above average IQ,” she said.
A learning disability refers to a number of disorders that affect a person’s ability to acquire, organize, retain, understand or use verbal or nonverbal information. Disabilities in learning can be any number of things including dyslexia, dyscalculia and many more.
The goal is to turn these young people into independent learners who know their strengths, their weaknesses and how to work around them, Dewhurst said.
“We introduced the program the foothills academy offered to the Prince Albert School board and as a result we began the first ever partnership with the public and separate (Catholic) school board and the foothills academy,” she said.
She continues to work on finding ways to educate people with learning disabilities, the CPCLD has recently changed its name to Saskatchewan Advocates for Learning Solutions.
“To broaden our scope of education to below Grade 7 and to young adults,” she said.
Originally from Cape Breton, she is the youngest of 13 children. Dewhurst made her way to the flatlands of Saskatchewan in the pursuit of work.
Dewhurst says that it is important that the YWCA has this annual awards ceremony.
“It’s very valuable … to recognize that women are equally capable of being in leadership roles … We are equally capable,” she said.
Over her years in the industry of corrections has seen many more women entering the field and taking on positions of power.
“Women, now, are in all roles, in government, in institutions and being the leaders.”
On Thursday she will receive the actual award at a dinner gala. The Women of Distinction awards and dinner event will take place on Thursday at the Ches Leach Lounge.