The school principal wins an award for creating an inclusive school environment – Low Calorie Diets Tips

“I’m just part of a really great team here at St. Bernard’s and there are many other employees who could be recognized for that,” said Leah Smith, Principal of St. Bernard

A local educator was recognized for her efforts to make St. Bernard’s Catholic School an inclusive and welcoming place.

Principal Leah Smith was recently recognized with the Empower Simcoe Inclusion Excellence Award, which annually recognizes educators and students who champion an inclusive school environment.A

A native of Orillia, Smith has been an educator with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) for 23 years and has served at St. Bernard’s Elementary School for five years.

Some of the work she has done recently includes setting up a student support room to help with students’ challenges and intellectual needs, which all students can access as needed.

“Students can access the Student Support Center if needed. You can come down and work in this space,” Smith said Orillia Matters. “We also have sensory activities in there so they can use the space if they just need a quiet place during the day.”

The day care room is staffed by a special education teacher and educational assistant and also includes a game room with board games and foosball.

Smith said that one of the most important aspects of the space is giving each student a place to go when they feel they need privacy.

“I wanted to make sure that all students could maintain their dignity, that they had a private place to go and that they could just have their privacy if they needed some time,” Smith said. “I found that in the past, students sometimes didn’t have a place to go.

“We needed to create safe, caring, positive and private spaces for students to roam around in throughout the day and that’s exactly what we envisioned here at St. Bernard’s,” she added.

During her time at the school, Smith also helped set up a “Zen Zone” for students and even instituted a buddy system for an injured student so she didn’t have to take the elevator by herself.

“I (had a student with) a broken ankle and I just wouldn’t let her ride the elevator by herself,” she said. “It’s not like an actual program that I have; (It’s just) instinct for me to say, “Oh, make sure you have a friend ride with you to help you carry your books.”

“We also have another area called the Zen Zone that’s packed with opportunities for students to just really de-escalate,” Smith added. “[It’s]a place where they can self-regulate and just take a deep breath and unwind from the stress and excitement of the day.”

The school also singles out students who were “caught” doing nice things over the announcements.

“Especially now, it’s very common for people to catch people doing something wrong and we’re always criticizing people,” Smith said. “But at St. Bernard’s we see people at their best and watch people do things that are good … So if you catch someone doing their best, we make sure that’s highlighted above the announcements.”

At the heart of the school and its own work is a philosophy centered on helping others and making them feel included, Smith said.

“I really love St. Bernard’s,” she said. “I relied on many people to help me (growing up) and I feel like if I can give back and help other students then I have a calling and I hope to help others.

“We have a small group that the staff knows very well, and it’s very common for the staff to walk around and know each student by name,” Smith said. That really helps to make the students feel really included and that’s the aim here – we want all students to feel included.”

Although her name is on the award, Smith said working at St. Bernard’s is truly a team effort.

“I’m just part of a really great team here at St. Bernard’s and there are a lot of other employees who could be recognized for that,” Smith said. “The choices we have to make in school these days are really challenging and not easy, so it’s really very humbling and a great honor to be recognised. I feel truly blessed.”

Smith is one of six SMCDSB educators to receive a 2022 Inclusion Excellence Award.

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