Pair of Saint-Laurent educators honoured for commitment to special needs kids

"What's missing in our society is the diversity," says world renowned fashion designer Simon Chang after awarding two Montreal teachers from Parkdale elementary, the Simon Chang Difference Maker award. Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed reports.

Two educators in Saint-Laurent were honoured earlier this month with Simon Chang Difference Maker Awards, named after the Canadian designer.

Teacher Cynthia Yee and Natalina Melillo, a special education technician, from Parkdale Elementary School in St. Laurent received the honour.

The Simon Chang Difference Maker Awards are handed out annually in partnership with the English Montreal School Board and Inspiration News.

“It is such an honour to receive this award.” Yee told CityNews. “Working with Miss Natalina is such a fun experience. She’s such a bubbly person and coming to work doesn’t feel like work.”

“I just love coming in every day and just hanging out with them, singing, dancing, having fun,” added Melillo.

Yee and Melillo work in a classroom called WINGS that supports students with special needs. They go above and beyond to teach their students.

“I have fun with Miss Cynthia and Miss Nat’s class,” said a student. “I like baking and learning a lot about the solar system.”

“I like to try new foods,” added another. “I am learning so many new things. School is fun.”

Yee says it’s a blessing to work with Melillo.

“All the students are on modified programs and they each have an IEP (individual education plan),” said Yee. “So being able to meet their goals, I find this a little bit challenging, but working with Miss Natalina is amazing and we’re such a good team. All these challenges go away when I’m working with her.”

The Simon Chang Difference Maker Award celebrates individuals who impacted the lives of others by improving their world. The Simon Chang Foundation for Change embraces inclusion, diversity and promotes respect.

“You know, a lot of things that being an ethnic Chinese, they don’t understand my culture, they’re never going to understand our race because they say, ‘well, you’re like this,’” said Chang, the Montreal designer. “We’re not one size fits all, especially Asian. We are so different in so many aspects of it. We might look similar, but everything else is different.

Natalina Melillo and Cynthia Yee with designer Simon Chang. (Credit: CityNews/Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed)

“And if we could learn about all this, I think that’s a very encouraging thing for kids. They’re not afraid. Oh, you’re from somewhere else? Fine, we want to know about your food. You want to know about your celebration of life or whatever you do. And I think that’s very much… open your mind.

“What’s missing in our society is the diversity. The focus had to be shifted to everybody. And so I said, if I don’t do a change, nobody’s going to change anything.

“We live in a world that we have so many different types of people and we got to learn to live with each other.”

Yee and Melillo’s story is available in the latest issue of the Inspirations.

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