Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Welcoming Spring & Renewal

Hi to all of our Parents, Students, Staff and Stakeholders,

I hope that you are all braving this seemingly endless winter and looking forward to some reprieve from the weather during Spring Break.  As I look to the arrival of Spring (which admittedly we will not see for another few months (but which my English DNA fools me into believing is just around the corner), I realize how quickly time is flying.

It may not be on your radar yet, but September 2018 will be a significant landmark for Foothills Academy as we proudly enter our 40th year of operation. Our founders - Gordon Bullivant, Tom Aylesworth and the Mackasey family - have left us with an incredible legacy and we intend to mark this milestone anniversary by celebrating our growth and direction. Just as we did 40 years ago, we continue to strive to meet the needs of children, youth, and young adults, as well as their families, living with Learning Disabilities whether it is through the school program or through Community Services.

With our upcoming anniversary in mind, we have embarked on a project to revamp our website thanks to the generosity of an Anonymous Donor who believes in the work we are doing.  Through this revamped website, we will continue to share what we do at Foothills with the world while we ensure that we provide a functional website that serves the needs of current students, parents and staff, prospective members of Foothills Academy, as well as other stakeholders.

As a vital stakeholder in our community, we would like to ask for your feedback on what you would like to see in this revamped website. To do this, we have created a form that you can submit with your ideas. Let us know if you feel that there is something on the website that you would like to see or something that you would like to see changed or removed. We encourage you to think back to before you came to Foothills. Were there things that were not easy to find? Or, do you know about something that would be a great asset to the LD population if it was readily available on the website? Please know that any feedback you provide about the website will be very much appreciated and thoughtfully considered. Our feedback form will be open for responses until noon on March 23rd (start of Spring Break).

I hope that all is well with every one of you and remember that Spring is coming (somewhere).

Warmest (quite literally) Regards,


Monday, 29 January 2018

Foothills' Resolutions for 2018

Welcome 2018!

A belated Happy New Year to all of our Foothills families and stakeholders! I hope that 2018 will be a year of growth and success for us all. 

Each New Year, many of us make resolutions to grow or to change those less desirable habits we may have developed the previous year. Aside from ongoing professional learning, I have resolved this year to gain a modicum of fitness in order to be able to meet the Mountains & Marathon challenge of riding my bike from Jasper to Calgary in one day for our Foothills students in May. While I know many parents, staff and students have set goals for growth, this made me wonder what kind of resolution an organization like Foothills Academy could set.

As always, we (staff of Foothills Academy) resolve to provide the best possible learning and life experiences for our students; striving to help develop the most capable, contributing and caring young people of the future. Integral to this goal is the professional development engaged in by our staff. We resolve to hone our skills as professionals to ensure best practices are followed in the classroom for teaching individuals with Learning Disabilities. 

A focus of this year’s Foothills’ resolution will be to examine the way we assess students with Learning Disabilities. Although there are general assessments in the education system to which we are constrained, we also need to be responsive to student learning and assessment in the moment to support student learning. Where much of the educational world assesses student learning by simply awarding a grade and then moving on, we must resolve to consider other assessments that benefit our students and their learning. 

By just providing a grade, we aren’t engaging students in effective learning as we are telling our students that grades are more important than the learning process.  Of course, grades are inescapable in the current educational systems of North America and have some merit for monitoring progress. But, we have to assess growth in learning and examine what we can do to support it. We must resolve to include students closely in the assessment practices of the classroom so that they are engaged in effective learning and understand and enjoy the importance and challenges of learning as much if not more than a grade.

Foothills resolves to assess students in a range of ways, daily, weekly, monthly, bi-annually and annually and collaborate as a staff, with students and parents, to assess how students are growing in school; and to identify how we can adapt our professional practices. Our collective resolution, as stakeholders of Foothills Academy, should be that together, with our ongoing open communication, sharing of best practices and positive collaboration, we can all be the best that we can possibly be.

Here’s to a wonderful 2018 and I look forward to watching each and every student at the school grow.

Now I’d better find time between all of this for a quick bike ride. May is coming fast and I don’t want to break any of my resolutions.

Simon riding his bike


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Mountains and Marathon

One of the most unique aspects about Foothills Academy is the commitment to never turn a child away from our programs due to their financial circumstances. Everyone associated with Foothills Academy – students, parents, staff and our corporate supporters are asked to come together to help us fulfill this mandate.

Parents play a huge role in our fundraising efforts to support our Bursary Fund. A great example of this was on display at our annual gala, Fall Funtasia, which was held last Friday. Without parent volunteers and without parent attendees, the event would not happen. It contributes approximately $100,000 towards the Foothills Academy Bursary Fund. It was also the culmination of all the efforts of Foothills Academy parents (and staff) who helped make the FAPA car raffle such a success. The raffle also contributes about $100,000 toward the Bursary Fund. We, Dr. Karen MacMillan and I send out our sincere appreciation to everyone who contributed to the success of both these events.

Karen and I, as Executive Directors, have been brainstorming ways we can make a significant contribution to the ongoing fundraising efforts of the organization. On Friday evening, I announced a new, one-time initiative that we are doing in partnership with the President of Centron Construction Group, Wayne Benz. It is being called Mountains & Marathons. Together, we will bike and run 289 miles - one mile for every student who attends Foothills Academy. We will overcome the challenge of mountains and marathons to reflect the challenges that students with Learning Disabilities have daily; overcoming their own learning mountains and giving marathon efforts in the classroom.

I have committed to ride my bike from Jasper to Calgary, (yes, the Jasper on the other side of the Icefield’s Parkway), going up over the Columbia Icefields, over Bow Summit, past Lake Louise, through Banff and home to Calgary. This is a ride that is normally suggested to take 6 days to complete. However, I will do these 263 miles in one day. I will start the ride at 7 am on Saturday, May 26, 2018, and finish (hopefully) at the Saddledome at 7 am on Sunday, May 27, 2018; which is incidentally when the Calgary Marathon starts. There, I will pass over a baton to Centron Group’s Wayne Benz, who will run the 26 miles of the marathon for us.

By pledging to support us in our efforts to conquer Mountains and Marathons, all donors you will be directly contributing to make a difference to the lives of so many children and families in Calgary affected by Learning Disabilities. You can help them access specialized programs and resources that will help them conquer their Learning Disabilities and become the individuals they are capable of becoming. I hope that we can count on your support and spread the word to your friends and family to also support this initiative.

Keep a lookout on the website for further details of the Mountains and Marathons initiative. And, if you didn’t get a chance to donate toward this initiative on Friday night, feel free to call Melissa at the front desk to give your pledge (403.270. 9400) or go online through our CanadaHelps donation page to get an immediate tax receipt. 

We are all in this together. And, being a strong community of parents, stakeholders, staff and students makes Foothills what it is. For that, I would like to thank each and every one of you.


Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Routine and Motivation - A Parent's Role

Welcome to the first of a monthly blog post in which I will let you know some of my thoughts about the happenings at Foothills Academy.

During October, after the typically frantic start to the school year, things are now settling down, and Foothills is gently humming along with the usual routines which are important to all of our successes. Students and teachers are forging new and stronger relationships essential to students’ academic and social outcomes, and parents are getting to know new staff, new curricula, and new expectations with new grades. 

Father helping with homework

Each year we discuss the crucial role of parents in their child’s success, and being in a routine is a small, yet essential part of this. Ensuring that your child has adequate ‘break time’ when they get home, for healthy nutrition, exercise or relaxation, is vital; so too is the routine and structure they require for their homework and studying. If you want to support your child with their work, try to make regular, consistent, set times each evening for working, and help your child to organize a clear space at home that is free from too many distractions. 

Once working, we need to keep our students motivated, and where we try to enhance motivation at school with rewarding praise for effort, parents can follow suit at home by praising children for their efforts in organizing themselves and structuring their work or study. We have to ensure to praise our children for things which they can control, such as the way they layout their work, how they use strategies, how they organize their study time with schedules or timers, or how well they follow explicit instructions to accomplish tasks. All of these matters are within a child’s control, so we can comment on them and give praise or support where required. If we focus our praise on achievement, we will struggle to motivate students, because sometimes, despite a child’s effort, their overall performance is beyond their control, and they can become de-motivated if they are trying hard yet not achieving to their (or their parents’) expectations. Focusing upon praise for effort will enhance a child’s performance now, and will develop greater persistence of their intrinsic efforts in the future, so it is truly helping us to set each child up for success. 

Parents can begin this on a small scale to build student motivation, by praising a child for setting up their ‘work area’ neatly and consistently or praising the way by which they structure their work in their notes, on their computer, in their files, or on their flashcards. All of these things are within a child’s control, and so praising these areas for good effort can only improve their motivation.This foundational piece of motivation at home can be built upon throughout the course of the year, although it is important to avoid generic praise to boost motivation such as ‘good job’, or ‘you’re so smart’, because these don’t mean anything to a child, certainly to one who is struggling.

Such effort praise fits into the overarching umbrella of Self-Determination Theory that we have been building throughout the school community over the past few years. A key part of this is the staffs’ focus upon effort-reward, autonomy, and the strong student-teacher relationships which are part of the foundations of Foothills Academy. Where students may once have been only motivated by the fact that they are told to do work (introjected motivation) or that they will receive an incentive prize (identified motivation), or that they see work as an important means to an end (integrated motivation), we aim to develop the passion in our students to do well because they want to succeed, know they are capable and have a lifelong love of learning (intrinsic motivation). 

Simon Williams
Executive Co-Director