Like many other young people, Leon Yanko would like to pursue post secondary education.
But Leon has Down syndrome and faces barriers that make accessing further training difficult.
Leon graduated from Salmon Arm Senior Secondary (SAS) in 2018 and returned to the high school in the fall to complete Grade 13. He also attended a special course at Okanagan College for one semester.
But the college offers no other courses that could accommodate Leon at this time. And, while many students relocate to other communities to further their education, it is not a viable option for Leon.
But options are exactly something his mother Sonya is hoping to uncover.
“He can read and write, but not at a level required for what is available now,” says Sonya, who is grateful SAS allowed her son to return to the school for Grade 13. “At school he has an assistant; he needs extra guidance, help with comprehension.”
While barriers do exist, there is a lot Leon can and does accomplish.
From 8:30 to 9:15 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at SAS, Leon operates his own business, Classic Coffee, where he serves coffee and good cheer to the tune of classic rock music.
He is currently helping out at Andover Terrace on Monday and Wednesday mornings setting tables. What he loves to do is work in the kitchen but cannot do that as he needs modified Foodsafe training, something Sonya is trying to secure for her son.
“We’ve been through the school system and Community Living, we’re all entitled to an education but these guys are not included because they’re level 1 (need assistance), so they don’t get to go to college which I think is absolutely wrong,” Sonya says. She believes many special-needs individuals would benefit by local community college training. “If they can be educated and get a trade, then it goes back into our community, they’re part of everybody’s lives, but there’s nowhere for them to go.”
Karen Sansom, associate dean of Arts and Foundational Programs at Okanagan College agrees training is limited by the fact that the funding the college receives to offer the program on a tuition-free basis only affords one full-time instructor and a part-time assistant.
“Generally Wanda (Radies) is not able to accommodate Level 1 students, other than in a few courses that can accommodate a wide range of abilities, such as the course that Sonya’s son did take in the fall semester,” she says.
Community Living British Columbia facilitator and social worker Jenny Kucy will take Leon’s case on as of May 19 when he turns 19.
Sonya is hoping a March 1 meeting with Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo will help open up some avenues. She has also been invited to get in touch with the Salmon Arm Employment Service Centre.
In the meantime, Sonya is inviting other parents and caregivers in similar situations to get in touch with her in order to provide a louder voice by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.