When Discovery School student Emily Aylward steps onstage tonight to make her valedictorian speech, it will be directed at Saanich’s most intimate Grade 12 class.
But she’ll be speaking to a big crowd.
The friends and families of all four graduating students – Aylward, Brandon De Melo, Max Danielson-Lyons and Troy Comber – will be in high spirits, as the 37-year-old Discovery School hosts its inaugural graduation ceremony.
“It was eight years ago we decided to grow beyond Grade 9 and add Grades 10 to 12, and here we are,” said Discovery principal Sherri Ko.
It took a couple of years, but the campus eventually moved to an expanded site on Wilkinson Road that allowed the school to add the higher grades.
Discovery is an independent school with a focus on special education, though Aylward’s academic resume rivals that of any high school valedictorian.
She’s been at Discovery since Grade 7 – she attended South Park elementary and Monterey middle schools before that. She has overcome diagnoses of dysgraphia (inability to write), dyscalculia (inability to do arithmetic) and developmental co-ordination disorder (fine motor skills).
“Emily is an example that 25 per cent of our students are gifted, they just have a hard time accessing it,” Ko said. “Special needs are often invisible. Our students are very bright and we help them with verbal struggles, or written output.
“(Discovery) prepares students for the transition into the community. ... We adapt to what each student needs or asks for.”
Aylward is finishing with a 91 per cent average in her Grade 12 classes. Outside of school, the Fairfield resident plays soccer, rides horses and sings. She organizes food drives, initiated a fundraising campaign for Jeneece Place, and volunteered in Peru during spring break.
“Coming to Discovery helped all of it. I don’t face those challenges any more,” Aylward said. “Before we moved to Wilkinson we were in a house, and it still feels like we’re in a house, just bigger.”
Her plan is to complete Camosun College’s early childhood education program. She’s also waiting to find out if she’s been accepted to attend an additional year of high school at Canadian College Italy. In that case, she would study an extra year of high school with CCI in Lanciano, immersing herself in Italian language and culture, then attend Camosun in 2015.
Discovery’s 2015 grad class will more than double, with 10 students enrolled. The school has 70 students in Grades 3 through 12.