Hillcrest Collegiate is all set to observe Autism Awareness. The school has had significant success with learners who are Neruodivergent. So what is Neurodivergence and why is it important to educate ourselves about this? Neurodivergence refers to the idea that people have brains that work and learn differently. Neurodiversity embraces the idea that differences do not mean that something is wrong and that while each individual may not think or learn in the same way, they are not incapable. It is simply an indication of the diversity of people and the human brain. People who are neurodivergent are often diagnosed as autistic, ADHD or dyslexic. Understanding and learning about Neurodivergence is a key to helping our children thrive when they are struggling to fit into the traditional educational models that our school institutions use. Children who have brains that work differently are often labelled and become disenfranchised. They may be able to excel in different areas but because they cannot learn in a traditional way they are written off or worse – they write themselves off. The results is low self-esteem that can set them on a trajectory of lifelong feelings of failure and incompetence,  

Hillcrest Collegiate is determined to change this trajectory. The school’s core values are rooted in embracing Neurodivergence. When I hear the stories of the kids who struggled in the mainstream school system and started to thrive at the school, I see a safe space where learners and teachers have come together to learn, a place where neurodivergence is welcomed.

Neurodivergent learners often need individual attention to coach them back to a feeling of competence and to help them find areas in which they excel. The staff at Hillcrest Collegiate believes that individual attention is essential. This is because many learners who have come to Hillcrest Collegiate where what they term as boxless, i.e. they do not fit into the traditional school box and they cannot learn within that box. The initial phase of their new schooling must be rehabilitative. Many kids have been traumatized by this feeling of not fitting into the box and have PTSD. They take this feeling of being incapable and disenfranchised everywhere and the school must address this first in order to work successfully with a learner. One of the biggest challenges that teachers of neurodivergent kids face is the learner’s misconception that they are a stupid failure.

Another core value that Hillcrest Collegiate embraces is relational teaching; this is based on their belief that education is more impactful, potent and powerful when built into a relationship that is safe and nurturing.  Relationship based teaching is extremely important for neurodivergent learning. Disenfranchised kids who feel connected to a teacher or parent will learn better and have better self-esteem. This is why the teachers at Hillcrest focus on building relationships with each child. They believe that these learners are special individuals who have not yet discovered their own unique learning style or what they excel in. Hillcrest Collegiate seems to be a magnet for teachers who love working with these learners and their learning challenges. The staff at the school understands the need to provide a positive, accepting space for learners to explore learning. This safe space is essential for them to gain confidence and start to enjoy learning again. Management at the school thinks of these teachers as educational tailors, essentially customizing learning for each individual child to suite a learner and help them become their best selves.

Inclusivity is also essential to helping your Neurodivergent learner thrive. As learners find their way and develop confidence and start learning again their interests and capabilities will grow. They can be anything from art to fashion to music or cooking. Their personalities will also shift as they explore their own individuality. It is important for these learners to have a space where they feel accepted and included as a unique individual. This is one of the core values that Hillcrest Collegiate implements in the school. The school encourages the acceptance of differences between peers and implements a heart-warming inclusivity – kids are never made to feel left out. This is a far cry from current school culture where learners are ostracized for being different by their peers and teachers. The current culture in mainstream schools makes kids feel left out if they don’t fit in the ‘perfect learner’ or ‘cool’ box.  

Hillcrest Collegiate has a unique culture and energy – there is a nurturing spirit that is tangible throughout the beautiful campus. The staff at Hillcrest is so passionate about creating an institution where disenfranchised kids can grow and learn. Their enthusiasm makes me think of this quote by Nietzsche, “… those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”. To me it feels as if the staff at this school understands the music that each child need to hear and dances with them.