Alex Anderson: MYS Coach
"It’s really rewarding. The relationships you build. It really makes you feel like you’re making a difference. Some days, it doesn’t even really feel like you’re going to work.”
Local 453 - Macdonald Youth Services Coach Program
For Winnipeg students facing challenges at home and in the classroom, Macdonald Youth Services Coaches like Alex Anderson are there to help kids stay in school and provide the support they need to help them through their academic and personal challenges.
Alex is the President of MGEU Local 453 Macdonald Youth Services Coach Program – a unique partnership between Macdonald Youth Services, the Winnipeg School Division, and the Manitoba Department of Families.
The Coach 1 Program is tied to Mulvey School and supports students in Grades 1 through 6. The Coach 2 Program supports Grades 7-9 students and is tied to General Wolf School. Both provide everyday assistance which is personalized to individual students’ needs.
“It’s tailored towards kids with significant behavioural, emotional needs. Kids who have not succeeded in a regular classroom, they’re sent to us and we work with them and, if successful, help them reintegrate back into the regular classroom. These are kids that need very, very close support. Most have severe trauma backgrounds, FASD, autism, things that have made it difficult for them to be successful in the classroom,” says Alex. “If we weren’t here, these are kids that would just fall through the cracks. They wouldn’t go to school and they wouldn’t have someone checking up on them. There really wouldn’t be a lot of options left for them.”
Being an MYS Coach means being a motivator and a mentor that students can rely on. As Alex explains, the support they provide goes well beyond the regular nine to five.
“Every day, we pick up the kids at their home, drive them to school, get them breakfast, I get them settled in and spend all morning with them side-by-side doing school work. I spend recess and gym with them and get them doing activities and staying active. Some kids can make it through an entire school day, some kids can only make it an hour, but we try to get them through as much as they can get through. If we’re scheduled for an activity that day, we call their parents and let them know we’re doing an activity and we’ll bring them home after that.”
Finding something fun that the student enjoys doing, both inside and outside of school, helps build a rapport with each child, so coaches spend a lot of time in the community with after-school activities (including cultural activities) and activities during the summer, winter, and spring breaks. Alex says the key is finding a personal connection, which is why it’s all tailored to their individual interests.
“Some kids are really active and all they want to do is go biking or skateboarding or swimming. Some kids are really musical so we try to set them up with piano lessons or help them write music. Some kids are really artistic, so we organize art stations and get art supplies and bring artists in. Some kids just want to go fishing all the time, so there might be a week in the summer where we go fishing every single day.”
To get kids into the Coach program there is a referral process and – with this kind of one-on-one support – it’s not surprising that there is a waiting list, with many applicants and only a limited number of spaces.
“If we had a bigger staff complement and a bigger building, we for sure could take more, but we’re limited with space and staff.”
Still, he says the coaches maximize the support they’re able to provide with the space and resources available to them. He says it’s incredibly gratifying work, especially when kids stay in touch long after they graduate from the program. Alex says one of his graduates who keeps in touch is keen to talk about Pokemon at any time of day.
“He texts and calls me almost every other day just talking about Pokemon. We’re both fans, so he’ll text me cards he has, or send me trade offers, and sometimes just to talk. It’s really rewarding. The relationships you build. It really makes you feel like you’re making a difference. Some days, it doesn’t even really feel like you’re going to work.”