Oct 4, 2021

j-baroudWhen Jamilee Baroud talks about learning, her words are as passionate as they are acute. She speaks with insight and experience, awareness and thoughtfulness, and with a voice filled with hope and pride for the program and the learners she serves. Jamilee works as a learning strategist in the Indigenous Gathering Space at snəw̓eyəɬ leləm Langara College, a rich, welcoming, multi-purpose environment created for Indigenous students to connect.

In her role, Jamilee supports students and establishes a foundation for their college-level studies by learning how to learn and provides distinctive tips and tricks that build community and foster intellectual independence. It’s a role perfectly suited for the longtime educator.

The Learning Strategist Program is an extension of a pilot project Jamilee implemented in 2019    aimed at providing better support to students who experience barriers to educational success, what she affectionately refers to as her “work fantasy”.

“I always found the intersection of education, technology, and equity fascinating,” she said. “I loved the idea of parlaying my knowledge of the field and applying it to enrich education and inspire success so that students can achieve their highest academic potential.”

This extensive knowledge - Jamilee holds a PhD in Education from the University of Ottawa, a Master of Education degree from Lakehead University, and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Carleton University – coupled with her affinity for learning and student success, has resulted in a well-rounded, pragmatic, and effective program.

The Learning Strategist program, funded in part by RBC Foundation, provides several modes of support via group sessions and individualized meetings. To ensure program effectiveness and student success, Jamilee notes that it’s critical to understand the unique circumstances of each student to empower educators to create and implement practices that are responsive to Indigenous learners.

“Individualized one-on-one sessions both online and face-to-face provide opportunities for students to openly express sensitive topics in confidence, develop a strong rapport with me as the learning strategist, and take the necessary time to address challenges, which vary in topic and length by individual,” she shared. “Group sessions, on the other hand, provide opportunity for students to work through and overcome study, coursework, and class-time related challenges collectively, and provides a safe space to keep students accountable and to share learning strategies and techniques with one another. Individualized one-on-one sessions and drop-in sessions have varying levels of effectiveness and are dependent on the needs and interests of students.”

Time is the primary challenge for students who are hesitant to join the program. Unexpected circumstances make it difficult to strike a school-work-life balance. Being able to host this program in Langara’s Gathering Space provides a convenient and safe cultural location that is important to the student experience. It includes various amenities and features a homework space, casual sitting area, and a kitchen. It offers students a place to organize events throughout the semester, or simply a place to rest and relax when they need or want to escape the bustling College halls. The addition of the Learning Strategist program to the space is a key support helping to bridge one of the many gaps that Indigenous learners face with post-secondary education.

Unfortunately, the pandemic and its negative impact has been significantly challenging for her students. “On the one hand, the COVID-19 pandemic caused general stress and anxiety amongst students who were adjusting to online learning, social isolation, and new routines and habits to determine not only how to study, but where to study (i.e. no access to cafés, libraries, etc.) and what to study with (digital access divides). On the other hand, some students had to manage school related stresses while grieving,” Jamilee recalls.

“One student, for example, lost her aunt and uncle due to COVID-19 and only days later had to respond to an exam essay question about COVID-19, which served to heighten her anxiety and decrease her motivation. Student responses to anxiety, stress, and grief during this difficult time were various and multiple.” To foster mental wellness and mitigate stress, anxiety, and grief, students were encouraged and tasked to create mental and physical health routines as part of the program and the results have been encouraging.

While grades are a good indicator of progress and student success, Jamilee has seen positive outcomes that go beyond these measures. Students indicated that they become more confident writers because of the program. Her words emit a warm energy as she lists the many ways the program has made an impact. “Students report that their anxiety around test taking, presentations, assignment completion, and perceived study habits decreased significantly, while mental and emotional wellness improved. Other students express improvement in their ability to complete coursework and assignments using time management tips, study techniques, and notetaking skills.”

“Students also highlight the advantages that come with being able to identify a pathway towards achieving goals, including prioritizing key subject matter when preparing for exams, learning how to set and achieve realistic goals, and plan to reduce instances of procrastination from occurring. They gain skills to better manage their time, including the active integration and use of a schedule to keep their coursework organized.”

An additional outcome identified by students after meeting with a learning strategist was heightened self-awareness, self-efficacy, and the ability to self-regulate and maintain a positive outlook despite academic and life challenges.

Perhaps inevitably, as Jamilee was discovering the many positive outcomes of the program and the resiliency of her students, her definition of success broadened. “Sometimes success has less to do with competence and more to do with circumstance. I meet students who are homeless, students who are single parents, students who have been abused, students struggling with addiction, students who are primary care-providers, and others who are struggling with severe anxiety and depression. So, what has surprised me in this role since I first started is that I have had to develop a new mindset about the meaning of success. Success is not always about improved GPA’s and good test scores; there are many other versions of success. While some students articulate a specific desire to improve grades or maintain motivation, some students simply seek to feel better.”

It’s clear that Jamilee’s words originate from a love of education, of helping others learn, of academic success, and of providing support for her students. Her empathy and compassion are no doubt as valuable to the program as is her experience and education. It’s a winning combination for both her and her students.

“I have a deep love of learning and want to pass that along to students. When I step into my (virtual) office each day, I know that all my students can succeed. This belief shapes how I teach and engage with my students and how my students engage in their academics. When their confidence about their academic potential increases, it pushes them beyond the limits of their imagination and pulls their potential to the next level. They learn what fires their passion. They create beautiful and important work. They see the value in their unique knowledge and intelligence. They become excited and eager to learn. In return, they inspire me. They nourish my love for learning. Throughout this reciprocal process they remind me each day that I’m fortunate to witness their progress, learn with and from them, and progress alongside them each day.”

About snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College
Located in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., Canada, snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College provides University, Career, and Continuing Studies education to more than 23,000 students annually. With more than 1,700 courses and 130 programs, Langara’s expansive academic breadth and depth allows students of all ages, backgrounds, and life stages to choose their own educational path. Langara is also known as snəw̓eyəɬ leləm 'house of teachings', a name given to it by Musqueam, on whose unceded traditional territory the College is located.

About RBC
Royal Bank of Canada is a global financial institution with a purpose-driven, principles-led approach to delivering leading performance. Our success comes from the 85,000+ employees who bring our vision, values and strategy to life so we can help our clients thrive and communities prosper. As Canada’s biggest bank, and one of the largest in the world based on market capitalization, we have a diversified business model with a focus on innovation and providing exceptional experiences to our 17 million clients in Canada, the U.S. and 34 other countries. Learn more at rbc.com.‎ We are proud to support a broad range of community initiatives through donations, community investments and employee volunteer activities. See how at rbc.com/community-social-impact.

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Mark Dawson
Manager, Public Affairs
Langara College