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School trustees provide input on draft curriculum, COVID

·6 min read

Hinton has three acclaimed school board trustees that represent the community to the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) and the Evergreen Catholic Separate School Division (ECSSD). The Hinton Voice reached out to all three to get their take on the draft curriculum, COVID-19, and the opportunities and challenges they face in their next four year term.

Out of Hinton’s three trustees, Yvonne Oshanyk is the only new trustee that will join the GYPSD board. She stated she has always been interested in education, especially through the work she’s done for the past 27 years at the Hinton Friendship Centre.

“I think I can maybe contribute some of the things that I’ve learned over the years,” Oshanyk said.

Oshanyk also hopes to be a voice for indigenous students and families on the GYPSD board. Over the years she hoped to see the number of indigenous graduates rise more than it has and would like to see if there is some way of improving that number.

In order to best serve the community, she hopes to hear from local families and learn about the issues and concerns they have.

A big discussion item currently in Alberta is the K-6 draft curriculum and while Oshanyk believes there are some contentious items included in the draft curriculum, she would like some more time to study the draft and form an opinion.

She’s interested in the indigenous content of the draft curriculum and wants to make sure it honours Indigenous histories, cultures, and perspectives to contribute towards the goal of reconciliation.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) came out with an analysis and critique of the draft curriculum in which 6,500 experts across the province were involved. The key findings showed that the draft curriculum does not meet Alberta Education’s overall vision, guidelines, and considerations for curriculum development. In response, incumbent trustee Shirley Caputo for GYPSD said that the board values their expertise and hopes the province takes these expert opinions into consideration.

When talking to individuals in the community, Caputo often reminds them to provide their detailed feedback through the online government survey, which she also completed.

When filling out the survey, she asked herself if she would be ready to learn the subjects and reach the outcomes in the draft curriculum if she was in that Grade.

“Even though I know what my age is, I’m thinking when I was in school, would I be ready to learn this if I was in that grade? And I think that’s a really good philosophy,” she said.

The majority of people she spoke to in the community are not liking what they see. She noted that this draft curriculum is not only for today, but that it has to last for a long time, which means it has to be right for everybody. She believes the curriculum requires further review and would like to see COVID-19 included in the curriculum as something children need to learn about.

Ron McKay, acclaimed trustee candidate for ECSSD and current chairperson of the board, stated that the board recently discussed the draft curriculum and they also felt it required a bit more work. The biggest concern to him is that the draft curriculum includes double the amount of outcomes.

The ECSSD superintendent, Mike Paonessa, added that Boards across Alberta asked for fewer outcomes in order to dive deeper into topics and meeting outcomes. But this version of the curriculum means teachers and staff are dealing with more knowledge rather than applied or practical hands-on learning.

“As a trustee I have to make sure we have the resources and the people trained to do it. When they tell us it’s ready, I guess it will be ready but I’m concerned about the resources available and the time we’ll have to prepare for it,” McKay said.

In terms of the Boards’ response to the COVID-19 situation, McKay noted that last year it seemed the Board had more direction from the province. Paonessa added that this direction meant school divisions across the province were more unified in terms of how COVID-19 measures were rolled out. This year, a lot of those medical decisions were left to individual boards and administrative teams.

“It’s just taking up a lot more of our time and in areas that we’re not necessarily well-versed in. We’re all doing things that could be done by one area or one part of the government that would be more in their line of work,” added Paonessa.

The Board’s want autonomy but they want autonomy on educational issues, not necessarily medical issues, he said. McKay added that school divisions will be getting some support from Alberta Health Services (AHS), which is a big help.

Oshanyk noted that the division is dealing with the many changes being thrown at them by the provincial government just like many other organizations across the province. As the longtime executive director at the Hinton Friendship Centre, Oshanyk said they had to adjust and try to make the right decisions for their programs, which is likely similar to what the division has dealt with.

Caputo felt that GYPSD has responded well to issues arising from the COVID-19 situation, starting with a discussion around making masks mandatory in their schools early in the school year. GYPSD sent out a survey to families in their division and planned to make a decision regarding masks on Oct. 6.

Instead, the provincial government mandated masks in schools for Grades four to twelve.

Caputo added that now, even some parents with children in earlier grades are sending their children to school with masks.

In terms of mental health, Caputo noted that GYPSD has family liaison counselors and the Bringing Empowered Students Together (BEST) program that help students and staff with ongoing challenges.

“We have those supports in place in our schools, which I’m so grateful for because they have somebody they can go to and talk with them. I’m so grateful as a division we have those supports in place for our staff and students,” Caputo said.

The BEST Program is one of Alberta’s Mental Health Capacity Building (MHCB) In-School Initiatives whose staff works with youth, families, schools and community members to promote positive mental health through promotion and prevention efforts.

McKay also noted that mental wellbeing and the wellness of the staff and students in the community is going to be an ongoing challenge throughout the next four year term.

Paonessa said the board is focusing and working on the wellness and mental wellbeing aspect which COVID-19 has taken a toll on over the last couple of years.

While the two big challenges are trying to get through COVID-19 and dealing with the draft curriculum, McKay is looking forward to continuing promoting ECSSD as a solid division and unit throughout his next term.

Aside from the main challenges ahead, Caputo pointed out that a specific challenge for GYPSD in Hinton will be the need to get transportation in order.

“I’m looking at my community of Hinton, and I see transportation [as a challenge]. Each area would be different, [for example] where the board chair lives, her Division’s [challenge] is the modernization of a high school to become a K to Grade 12 school,” Caputo said. “I value input from people, and I greatly appreciate people talking to me and bringing issues forward to me.”

To add your feedback on Alberta’s K-6 draft curriculum, go to alberta.ca/curriculum-have-your-say.aspx.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice

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