SUGGESTED CHANGES IN ALBERTA EDUCATION OUTLINED
In a late addition to the agenda, representatives from the Public School Board Association of Alberta (PSBAA) attended the Nov. 6 Prairie Rose School Division meeting in Dunmore to discuss a recently launched campaign geared towards making a major overhaul to Alberta's education system.
The campaign, Together for Students, was officially launched in October and since then, PSBAA members have been traveling the province to encourage school board members to start the conversation about having an allinclusive school system, rather than public, Catholic, Francophone, charter, and home-schooling systems.
Carol Picard, PSBAA director led the Nov. 6 discussion in Dunmore.
"We want to get the conversation going. We have children with diverse needs and when we talk about principles and values, this is one system that can offer choice and choice is the buzz word," said Picard.
Picard told trustees that Alberta's education system is still based on one that was formed more than a century ago and it's time to get it up-to-date with current needs.
"Alberta has changed since 1905. Women can now vote and in 1905, our system recognized only two religions - Catholic and Protestant. If you wanted religion taught, you sent your kids to Catholic schools, but all others went to the public schools. We're still hanging onto 1905," she said. "We could sit here all day if we were to identify all of the inefficiencies in the current system."
Pat Cochrane, chair of the Together for Students campaign added that an inclusive school system would provide better opportunities for students as there would be less duplication and better allocation of resources.
"The education history in Alberta has always been Catholic/Protestant. Then, it was Charter and Francophone schools. Then home-schooling, kids being taught in a building that looks an awful lot like a school being taught by a person who looks an awful lot like a teacher," said Cochrane. "The conversation is all about the possibilities. Alberta is one of the last three provinces where the current system still exists. We need to get rid of the separate and public school systems altogether. This is not an anti-Catholic campaign. Our public schools welcome all."
The campaign points to a fragmented system where decisions are not necessarily made with the students best interests in the forefront.
"I believe that sharing of resources will allow jurisdictions to free up money and provide greater opportunities for the students. Fragmenting takes away opportunities for the students," said
Picard. "Right now, we have boundary driven decision-making, not student driven decisionmaking. We need cooperation between jurisdictions. We need to work together to be stronger."
Both Picard and Cochrane used busing issues as a concern that could be corrected under an inclusive education system.
"We've been running into a brick wall for the last 20 years over busing. We have three buses all going to the same area, but struggle to find money for other things," said Picard.
Cochrane talked about parents who put their kids on the bus 15 minutes earlier than they could for another bus, or drive them to school so they have more time in the morning to put on their make-up.
"They choose the earlier bus so they have that extra 15 minutes to do their make-up. It's a convenience thing for many people," said Cochrane. "People don't understand the complexities of how schools work."
Under a single system, students who attend a school that doesn't have a sports team would be able to join a team at another school, for instance or schools could share musical instruments amongst each other.
"Integration provides opportunities and it's time to focus on student needs, not jurisdiction needs," said Picard. "Eliminate duplication and direct the dollars to the classroom. We need to create one inclusive system that maximizes our resources, and let's build a better model together."
The PSBAA representatives have been traveling to school boards across the province to start the conversation about changing to an inclusive school system in the province.
"The conversation begins with us," said Picard.
Brian Callaghan, executive director of PSBAA was also in attendance at the meeting, noting that the campaign is in its infancy.
"Until we talk about things legislatively, we don't know what the model will look like, but if we were inclusive, faith wouldn't matter," he said.
PRSD superintendent Roger Clarke asked what the next step would be.
"If you envision this campaign being successful, what's the next step?" asked Clarke.
"We want everybody to sign up and register as a supporter of the campaign," Picard responded.
Callaghan said part of that conversation would be raising awareness on social media.
"We need to get the information out on social media, but we won't engage with people who swim at the bottom of the pool," he said. "This is an opportunity to say to fellow Albertans, 'it's the 21st century. What kind of document would you craft?"
Callaghan presented trustees with information packages that included a copy of the project charter that will not be made public at this time.
"This is not for the public. Parents will get a one-pager of information," he said.
Cochrane noted that in conversation she has met people who are not wanting to change the current system.
"We have a lot of adults saying, 'nope, we're not changing a thing'. The thing is, if we go to an all-inclusive system, something will change for everybody," she said.
The next step for school boards is to raise awareness and spread the word.
"We would like school boards to put forth a motion to get the conversation going. Hold public meetings, engage your teachers and other staff. Then, go to our website and register your support,"
"Tell us what are your objectives and objections in your area," said Cochrane. "Integrate our campaign into your life. Talk to your community leaders. We drop the rock in the pond and watch it ripple."
While the campaign is still early in the conversation stage, trustees are also encouraged to talk to their political leaders.
"We aren't asking for legislative changes or amendments. That's a provincial conversation, but talk to your MLAs. There is an election coming up," said Picard.
CLASSY PEOPLE HONOURED JUSTLY: The Swift Current United Way's 4th annual Foundation of Hope gala raised $ 60,000 in support of eight non- profit community programs. The elegant evening of dining and dancing took place at the Living Sky Casino Event Centre, Nov. 3. The eight grant recipients were recognized during a presentation ceremony when they received benefactor awards. This year's gala featured the launch of a video to raise awareness about the issue of addictions. The funds raised at the gala will benefit the following organizations and projects:
Canadian Mental Health Association ( Meal program; Education, life skills and social/ recreational program), Canadian National Institute for the Blind ( Enhancing quality of life programming - peer support; Summer day camps; Employment boot camp), Family Resource Centre (Teen parent program; Summer EAL preschool program; Messy Fingers program; Let's Play program), SaskAbilities (Community inclusion program), Swift Current Community Youth Initiative – The Center (Hot meal program for youth), Southwest Crisis Services (Community outreach program), Southwest Homes ( Vocational transportation program; Additional supports program), United Way Active Play (After school program).
TOGETHER FOR STUDENTS: Pat Cochrane, chair of the Together for Students Campaign (left) and Carol Picard, Public School Board Association of Alberta director, discuss taking the first steps and initializing conversation about moving to an inclusive education system in the province. They, along with PSBAA executive director, Brian Callaghan, held the discussion with Prairie Rose School Division trustees at a meeting on Nov. 6.
United Way Active Play received a benefactor award at the gala. From left to right, Heath Holiday, Becky Lawn, Craig Menzies and Tricia Holiday (Vision Care), Arthur Ward (Pattison Agriculture), Val Choo-Foo (United Way Active Play), Ryan and Mark Plewis (Standard Motors), and Stacey Schwartz (Swift Current United Way).
Grant recipients and gala sponsors stand for a group photograph. Back row, left to right, Craig Menzies (Vision Care), Kimberly Fury (SaskAbilities), Kimberly Bilanski (Family Resource Centre), Arthur Ward (Pattison Agriculture), Ryan and Mark Plewis (Standard Motors), and Nathan Wiebe (The Center). At front, from left to right, Stacey Schwartz (Swift Current United Way), Becky Lawn (Vision Care), Shayna Johnson (Southwest Homes), Sue Munro (on behalf of CNIB), Val Choo-Foo (United Way Active Play), Tricia and Heath Holliday (Vision Care), Brenna Ekstrand (Southwest Crisis Services), and Jacqui Williams (CMHA).
Swift Current United Way Executive Director Stacey Schwartz speaks during the presentation of the benefactor awards. Standing behind her are the presenting sponsors. From left, Mark Plewis (Standard Motors), Arthur Ward (Pattison Agriculture) and Ryan Plewis (Standard Motors).
Country musician Blake Berglund (centre) performs at the Foundation of Hope gala. He is flanked by guitarist Bryce Lewis and drummer Steve Leidal.
Arthur Ward of presenting sponsor Pattison Agriculture indicates a bid from the floor during the live auction by auctioneer Skip Neufeld.
Gala patrons watch the video about Mikaela Mamer's struggle to overcome her addiction to alcohol and drugs.