Highlights of Nova Scotia Federation of Home and School Associations Annual General Meeting

I was honoured to be invited to attend the Annual Meeting of the Nova Scotia Federation of Home & School Associations on October 17 and 18 in Truro, Nova Scotia, representing PEI Home and School Federation.

Friday Night Program

On the Friday evening, October 17, there was a round of introductions, an informal receiption, an opportunity to visit vendor tables, and two formal presentations:

  • Andrew Middleton from Atlantic Youth, a Nova Scotia-based private company providing workshops, consulting and services in situations involving children and youth (and a sponsor of the meeting) presented on his group's services, focusing on their ability to provide targetted supports using child and youth workers who can provide a "fresh pair of eyes" to a situation.
  • Chris Kennedy from The Goatworks presented his school-based workshops focused on African drumming, leading the group through an abbreviated version of one of his workshops (using a fleet of 15 drums spread among the participants).

Saturday Presentations

The heart of the meeting was a set of excellent presentations on issues of education and health.

Presentations in the morning block focused on mental health and wellness:

  • David Smith, a member of the NSFHSA board and a mental health practioner in Halifax, presented on "transitions," both the general notion of the challenges of transitions made by our youth – between schools, through the years, from school to life beyond – and also the book, e-book and app called Transitions, a project of TeenMentalHealth.org which is a resource developed for students leaving public school designed to aid them in this significant transition. David kindly allowed me to take a copy of the book back to PEI, and it is available in the PEIHSF office for review.
  • Nova Scotia author Gloria Wesley spoke about her life and work as an writer, about her historical fiction books Chasing Freedom and If This is Freedom, and about the challenges of interpreting black history as part of the Nova Scotia curriculum.
  • Tara Moore spoke about SchoolsPlus, the Nova Scotia initiative that she coordinates that seeks to create a bridge between the school and other service providers, offering an integrated approach to service delivery, centred in the school rather than fragmented across different agencies and locations. It's an interesting model that we might look to emulate here in PEI.

There were three keynote speakers following:

  • Minister of Education Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Hon. Karen Casey, updated the membership on developments in education in the province; she spoke on matters ranging from the Minister's Panel on Education, a wholesale review of public education in Nova Scotia, to a $5000 (+ $1/student) grant made to each school in the province designed in part to relieve the presure on schools to fundraise for activities, to the challenges presented by declining enrollement, focusing on a change to a hybrid model which recognizes that even as enrollement declines, there is still a need to maintain services (she used as an example the fact that a bus with 20 children vs. a bus with 40 children still both require a bus driver). The minister tool three questions, choosen at random from written questions provided by the delegates, and committed to answering the balance of the questions in writing.
  • Gary Clarke, Superitendent of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board spoke on the theme of "Beyond the Classroom" – the theme of the annual meeting – focusing on initiatives in  Nova School that enable exactly that: class trips and student travel (which he characterized as not being without challenges, but as an invaluable educational opportunity), co-curricular and extra-curricular activites, athletics, community-based learning and cooperative education, and the Challenge for Credit and Personal Development Credit programs that allow out-of-school education opportunities to be eligible for formal high school credit.
  • Starr Dobson, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia spoke about her route from CTV Atlantic journalist to work in mental health, using her own story of family challenges with mental health and wellness as a jumping off point. She focused on the need to communicate about mental health, and to destigmatize the diagnosis, treatment and discussion of mental health issues. It was an inspiring talk with many take-aways.

Presentations in the afternoon focused on healthy eating:

  • Jessie Lee-MacIsaac, from the Applied Research Collaborations for Health at Dalhousie University, presented the CLASS and CLASS II research projects, which looked at the relationship between health, nutrition, physical activity, mental health and school performance in Nova Scotia students. Similar to the SHAPES survey conducted in PEI schools, the CLASS project takes things one step further: researchers have been given access to student academic performance and health care data, in a blind, anonymous fashion, in a way that allows them to study the relationship between lifestyle, academic success and health. This is something the SHAPES survey is missing, and we may want to encourage SHAPES researchers to look at the Nova Scotia model if it proves to shed useful additional light on where interventions can be made.
  • Kimberley Hernandez, Coordinator for School-Aged Children and Youth with the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, presented on the Nova Scotia school food policy, highlighting the challenges presented by competing for student attention with fast food.
  • Margo Riebe-Butt, Executive Director of Nourish Nova Scotia presented on her organizations mandate, its work to spearhead school breakfast programs, and their move into projects like edible school gardens,

Procedural Notes

A few things I noticed about the meeting that we might want to use in our own meetings:

  • Each delegate was given a "vendor passport" in their kit; if they had each vendor in the trade show area mark their passport, they could return it for entry in a draw to win prizes at the end of the meeting (I won a $25 gas card, which paid for my gas back to PEI!). This was a great aid to vendors in the trade show, as it encouraged interaction from the delegates, and was a great ice breaker for both delegates and vendors.
  • There was a "credentials report" item on the agenda where the number of registered voting delegates was reported. This allowed it to be established that a quorom was present, and also reinforced who was a voting delegate and who was a guest. Not a big things, but anything that adds clarity to the voting process is a good thing in my book.
  • There is no "Vice-President" position on the NSFHSA board; instead they elect a "President-Elect," with the understanding that position will be mentored by the current President over their term, and will then assume the position of President. While we have an informal tradition of this practice, we don't follow it religiously. We may wish to consider making a change in this direction – it would require a change in our bylaws – if we determine it would make succession planning smoother.
  • Many local associations in Nova Scotia include student representatives; this is an idea worthy of consideration here.
  • The Nova Scotia meeting was much smaller than our PEIHSF annual meetings; in part this was because of many cancellations because of a threatening weather. Even with those cancellations, our registered delegate attendance in recent meetings of PEIHSF has been roughly twice that of Nova Scotia, despite the fact that there are 8x more schools in that province. We should be justifiably proud of the engagement of Islanders in the home and school movement here; at the same time, through our membership in the Atlantic Caucus of Home and School Federations, we can work to help our fellow members identify what's working here in PEI and how we can assist them with outreach to their membership.

Cost

The cost to attend the meeting was:

  • $124.19 for a room at the Best Western in Truro, Nova Scotia, where the meeting was held.
  • $117.95 for mileage, minus the $25 received for gas from the lucky drawing of a vendor passport, net $92.95.
  • $49 for bridge and road tolls.
  • No cost of meals, as breaskfast and lunch were provided.
  • Total cost was $266.14.

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