“A mental health crisis is considered to be one of the most significant fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Positive mental health strategies and building resilience among the students and staff of schools is paramount to successfully coping with today’s realities.“ That’s the message delivered to the BRSD Board of Trustees meeting on October 22, by the Mental Health Capacity Building Program Coordinator Andrea Dyck.
Board members heard how the highly skilled staff of the MHCB program do pro-active work to support students, identify ways to stop them from falling through the cracks and use a growth mindset to encourage students to be resilient and move forward with their learning.
“It may seem like we’re offering fun programs—and we are,” says Ms. Dyck, “but there is a lot more to it than that.”
Even before the pandemic, BRSD staff were aware that student’s mental health challenges were growing. Ms. Dyck shared statistics about the programs and services her team provided between September 2019 and March 2020, such as the 725 sessions for BRSD students, teachers, and families. More statistics are included on Page 3 of this update.
Ms. Dyck also reminded Board members that, despite the growing needs, mental health programming is under consideration for funding cuts. The Board voted to write a letter of support for maintaining MHCB program funding in schools across Alberta. BRSD families are also reminded that the provincial budget input process is open for public input until December 4. Everyone can share their thoughts. https://www.alberta.ca/budget-2021-consultation.aspx
Accountability Report update
During this disrupted school year, BRSD has seen both some encouraging Improvements in results and some worrying trends. Though there were no second semester Provincial Achievement Tests or Diploma Exam results, the high school completion rates, education quality, safe and caring school environments, and other measures are positive. But the school division is also seeing evidence that students are struggling with some of the basics right now. Literacy and Numeracy development will be a primary focus in schools this fall, with schools supporting flexible programming if needed to ensure students are supported in their learning. High Quality Teaching and Optimal Learning will be the Critical 2 priorities.
Allocation of federal funding
Battle River School Division was allocated just over $2 million from the federal government this fall, as part of its plan to support schools during the pandemic.
The first $1 million has been received, with the second installment due in January. BRSD has used these funds to pay for teachers who were hired to support the At-Home Learning program (over and above the existing staff who took on new roles).
The school division has also allocated extra Custodial, Educational Assistant and Bus Driver time to manage the extra cleaning duties that have been added this fall. To date an additional $360,000 has been spent for this purpose. We know that if these new protocols carry on for the whole school year we will not have enough funds to cover the extra expenses.
Nearing the end of the first quarter
This year about 720 BRSD students began the school year learning at home. BRSD schools transitioned to a ‘quarter system’ for this school year, which enables students to switch from at-home to in-person learning at four different times (and vice versa). The first quarter of the school year will end on November 10. Any families who are considering switching back to school, or from in-school to at-home programming, must let their home school know their plans before Friday, November 6.
Like many Alberta school divisions, BRSD is experiencing a drop in student numbers this fall. About 200 students have not yet returned to school, either through the at-home, in-person, on-line or alternative programs.
The BRSD Board continued its process of reviewing and updating policies, to reflect changes in the Education Act and changes in practice. In October they updated their Annual Work Plan to take into account some reporting deadline changes at the provincial level, and also reviewed Policies 2 and 4 to ensure they are ready for next year’s election.
Council of School Councils meeting November 18
Several times a year the BRSD Board hosts a meeting with all School Council Chairs, to talk about local issues, share ideas and ask for feedback from parents. The first Council of School Councils meeting for this school year will take place on the evening of November 18. It will be offered in a virtual format for the first time.