Links Connect Offers Heart-based Education

Links Connect teachers Lori Goins and Julie Laroque arrive at school each morning with a smile on their face, excited to teach compassion through experience.“ Links gives all students an opportunity to excel because it’s not head-based, it’s heart-based,” Goins said. 

Laroque has been at East Grand Rapids for 18 years and has played multiple roles other than teaching Links Connect including being a school nurse and a teacher’s aid. Her passion for working with others is evident.

“I love kids and helping people,” Laroque said. 

Outside of her time at school, Laroque works at a nursing home.

“I love these people,” Laroque said. “It brings me joy when someone even says ‘Thanks so much!’ for something as simple as giving them a hug or bringing them their food.” 

Like Laroque, the path of Goins has not always led straight to teaching Links. At one point, she spent eight years teaching but then took 20 years off. Five years ago, she returned to education and has been at East since 2019. 

Regardless of their path to Links Connect, the devotion these teachers give to the program day in and day out plays an integral role in the lives of students in the program.

“I was helping a student once, and it took her a week to learn how to write the letter Y. That really caught me and made me realize that I want to help kids that have a harder time than the rest.” 

Working in this program can be challenging, but there are also a lot of bright moments.

“I love to run the snack cart,” Laroque said. The snack cart is familiar to high school students for being both an opportunity to purchase a treat or a moment to see the smiling faces of the Links Connect students and staff.

“I’ll help out before class with just collecting money,” Kira Freng ‘22 said. “After class, we will restock the cart and put some things away.” 

These students, like Freng, do so much to help out links, like walking them down to classes and teaching them real-life skills that help further on in life. 

“It’s amazing when I watch my functional students form bonds with my links,” Goins said.

Even more about the program is how it’s important to not just people that need help, but also to teachers and students that need help. 

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” Laroque said. “It’s a win for the students that need help get linked with a peer who can possibly help them, it’s a win for the link because they care about other people and it makes them feel good because they’re helping, and it’s a win for the teacher because they get an extra set of hands.” 

This program can often get overlooked, but people should know that what these teachers and students do to help out is so important, and they show true compassion to people who need it the most. 

 “I love students, and I love all the students. If they need help, I love to help. If I can help a student achieve one of their goals to make them happy, I’m happy,” Laroque said.

This story was originally published in the March 31 edition of The East Vision.