A pilot project launched last year for children with learning disabilities is making waves in the local Catholic school system.

“It’s making a huge difference,” said Laila Riccardi, a learning resource teacher at St. Andrew’s elementary school in Vancouver.

Just before last Christmas, the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese partnered with the non-profit Learning Disabilities Association of Vancouver (LDAV), sending extra learning resource teachers to St. Andrew’s and to St. Francis of Assisi elementary schools to boost existing programs.

“We’re seeing quite a bit of growth with the kids in terms of their reading skills. Same with the writing skills,” said Riccardi. “We might have kids who didn’t know how to write a paragraph before, and now they’re able to do that.”

Before the pilot project, Riccardi was the only full-time learning resource teacher at St. Andrew’s. She was supported by one part-time teacher and a few educational assistants.

“When you’re looking at a big class of 28 to 30 kids, and you might have quite a few needy kids in there, you might have educational assistants that are floating around and helping the kids that are most in need of help,” but others with less obvious needs could miss out on the support, she said.

With the help of two LDAV teachers at St. Andrew’s, the school has been able to offer one-on-one support and tutoring to children with learning disabilities at school and during regular hours. “Parents definitely like the fact that tutoring is taking place during school time,” said Riccardi.

According to LDAV, one in 10 B.C. children have a diagnosable learning disability, like dyslexia. “Every child with a learning disability should be supported to realize their potential and become successful,” said executive director Kate Raven.

The non-profit found the pilot project “highly successful” and is now expanding to reach 48 children in six Catholic elementary schools. The additional elementary schools on board are St. Francis Xavier, St. Joseph’s, St. Edmund’s, and Holy Trinity.

St. Andrew’s principal Peter Veltri said he is looking forward to continuing the partnership between Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese and LDAV.

“We have definitely noticed an increase not only in the literary skills of our students, but also in their overall confidence.”