A “brainstorming workshop” was held on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at Bloomfield Elementary School, one of a series of three such workshops scheduled for this winter to allow home and school members to reflect on larger issues in education where we can work to bring about change (notes from earlier sessions at Montague Consolidated, Spring Park Elementary, and Elm Street Elementary are available).
In attendance were parents and guardians from Bloomfield Elementary along with two of the school's teachers and the school principal.
The mandate presented to the group was to identify current issues in education, focusing on broader practical and policy issues rather than immediate ones.
Disconnect between Health and Education
- There is a general feeling that Education and Health are two "silos" that need to be much better integrated.
- Services like occupational therapy, child psychology, and family support services, as well as caring for the general mental and physical health and wellness of the student and teacher population are not well-integrated into the school system, and are in short supply regardless.
- The number one issue identified by both parents and teachers affecting all aspects of school life is mental health and wellness: the day to day anxiety of today's complicated life is reflected in the classroom, and presents tremendous challenges to effective learning.
- Classrooms are more complex than ever before, with a wide range of students with a wider-than-ever range of emotional, behavioural, mental health, learning, economic and family issues.
- We cannot talk about "student achievement" without talking about these issues.
- If students are less-stressed, teachers are less-stressed, and the entire teaching and learning experience improves.
- Two books were recommended that describe some of this: Lost at School and The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Green.
- We must identify the roots of anxiety, and have systems and resources in place to address them, even if these fall outside the boundaries of what would traditionally be considered the education system's responsibility.
- Concerns were raised about the starting age for kindergarten, and that some students, depending on their birthdate and their development are starting school much too early.
- Systems like case management and progress monitoring are allowing teachers and administrators to make a connections between the age at kindergarten and achievement and other issues in later grades, and there appears to be a connection.
- There's a feeling that the "play based" approach to the kindergarten curriculum is under threat, and that parents and teachers must remain vigilant to preserve this emphasis.
- The school missed the "Early Years Evaluation" project when it was temporarily suspended for evaluation last year, and is welcoming its return, especially now that the evaluations will be done in April and the data made available to the school 4-6 weeks later; this will be a big help in planning for next year.
What works well at Bloomfield
- Both parents and teachers identified Bloomfield as a special school, one that stands out because of the feeling of the school community being a "family unit."
- Teachers and staff regularly go "above and beyond" their work to organize clubs and activities, to address needs in the school community, to make every child feel welcome.
- A previous principal established a strong culture of "absolute open door policy" for parents and guardians, and they are made to feel welcome in the school at any time for any reason.
- All of this despite the school, because it's the French immersion school for a wide area, drawing students from Tyne Valley to O'Leary.
- The school raised $100,000+ to build two new playgrounds over the past two years; there was tremendous support from within the school and beyond, and a "barn raising" atmosphere for the construction of the playgrounds.
Home and School Challenges
- It's always a challenge to get parents, guardians, teachers and staff to meetings, especially given the variety of activities that families are involved with outside of school.
- Now that the multi-year fundraising program for the playground is completed, it's become a little easier; there's a feeling that some parents were uncomfortable getting involved in fundraising and now it's "safer" to get involved again.
- Facebook is an effective tool for communicating with parents: there are regular updates on the home & school Facebook page, and they're regularly seen by 50+ parents.
- Because of the large geographical area that the school takes in students from, it's harder for the home and school executive to reach out to parents one-on-one because there are no existing community relationships to take advantage of: parents from Bloomfield are much less likely to know parents from Tyne Valley, for example.
- The school offers a breakfast program 3 days per week; 2 days it's a "quick" cold breakfast and on Fridays it's full hot breakfast.
- The breakfast program is used by 100% of the 200 students in the school, and there's a strong feeling that if not for the program many of those students would not have breakfast.
- The home and school president coordinates the breakfast program.
- The breakfast program is an important part of the social culture of the school in addition to the nutrition it provides.
- The school itself offers a lunch program 5 days per week, with a cost of $1.50 to $3.00 per child per day depending on the meal selection.
- It's a challenge to find vendors in the area who can not only provide the food, but who can also work within the English Language School Board policies on nutrition.
- The Healthy Eating Alliance is providing support in this area, and the school is encouraged to hear that the Healthy Eating Alliance is looking at developing lists of qualified vendors, and at training vendors in the school nutrition policy.
- There's a feeling that home and school – and parents and guardians as individuals – need to be engaged in the upcoming provincial election.
- In a smaller-group discussion in the second part of the workshop, there were three general issues that it was felt need to be discussed in the election: cuts to services, cuts to teaching positions, and class composition.
- The Home and School Federation was encouraged to provide members with a list of education-related questions that could be used to stimulate conversations at the doorstep as candidates make their rounds.
- The possibility of a PEIHSF-sponsored leaders debate on education was warmly greeted by all in attendance.