Sandi Loschnig

The Supported Adult Learning (SAL) classroom at Bow Valley College grew out of the need to address literacy learning for adults with cognitive and/or intellectual disabilities. What started in 1993 as a program to help learners with disabilities improve their reading, writing and numeracy skills through the use of technology, evolved into a learner centred, one-on-one classroom that utilized a variety of resources available today. The SAL classroom served adults (18+) with diverse abilities and disabilities, and equally diverse literacy needs. What made learning possible in the SAL classroom was the ability of the instructor to create a safe, welcoming environment where the learner trusts the instructor and feels respected. Learning plans were built on informal literacy assessments and the interests and goals of the learner. Lessons were created using everyday materials. Given the variety of challenges this classroom presented, the instructor supporting each learner and community support worker had to be empathetic, patient, passionate and knowledgeable about the work that they did.

Ask anyone who has worked with her and they will tell you that Sandi Loschnig met every requirement to lead the SAL classroom. Sandi believes her role in the SAL classroom was to help learners reach their fullest potential, and that everyone, regardless of abilities or disabilities, has a basic right to reach that potential. She approached each learner as an adult and understood that many of them had not received that level of respect and understanding in previous learning environments. In keeping with her philosophy of being learner centred, Sandi is quick to point out that progress in the SAL classroom looked different for everyone. She made sure to meet each learner where they are and build on what they already knew. During the initial sessions, Sandi asked about their likes and dislikes, their passions and goals, and built a learning plan that was aligned with the aspirations of the learner.

The SAL classroom faced several challenges, for example: rotating community support workers, differences in learning goals between the learner and the parent/guardian, learners’ lack of motivation or frustration with formal learning. Despite these challenges, Sandi went out of her way to engage the learner, using different strategies to connect with the learner and to find some common ground to inspire them to keep learning. Success looked different for each learner in the SAL classroom. Learning was often a slow, gradual process that relied on Sandi’s patience, repetition, positive reinforcement, and humour. For Sandi, the time and patience were worth it when she witnessed how much the learners accomplished over a semester, or over a year. She is passionate about the learners and proud of her work to help them redefine their educational experiences.

Sandi’s list of accomplishments prior to leading the SAL Classroom is extensive. She arrived in adult foundational education in a roundabout way, but every step that lead  her here was based on a belief in social justice, equality, and the power of education. With a background in not-for-profit work serving trauma survivors, she made the transition to Literacy Alberta, bringing with her a theoretical framework of adult learning principles – be learner centred, be patient, and focus on strengths. She leveraged her background in journalism to research and write Stories from the Field,  an exploration of current issues, innovations and challenges faced by adult literacy practitioners, and Unit 13 for the Literacy Alberta resource Creating Learning Partners – A Facilitators Guide for Training Effective Adult Literacy Tutors.

The SAL classroom had a long history of being financially supported by Calgary Learns who provided the primary funding, as well as by Rotary Club of Calgary who “provides bursaries to individuals and other direct funding to support adult basic literacy education”.  With the closure of the SAL Classroom at Bow Valley College, there is an opportunity, and a need, for another organization to build on the success that has been created in the SAL classroom. Calgary Learns has been working with the disability serving community to generate interest and capacity for what might be a ‘next steps’ initiative.