Sunday, 22 February 2015

Pink Shirt Day - Creating Safer Schools

Wednesday, February 25 marks Pink Shirt Day. That day everyone is encouraged to wear something pink to show community awareness, and to demonstrate a willingness to work together to prevent bullying in our schools, in our communities and online. Pink Shirt Day evolved out of the efforts of two Nova Scotia high school students, who decided to take a stand against bullying in their own school. Noticing that a grade 9 boy at their school was being bullied for wearing a pink shirt, they organized a school wide campaign to have everyone wear pink in support of ensuring that everyone felt safe and supported at their school.

ERASE Bullying is a BC Ministry of Education initiative that endorses Pink Shirt Day and strives to provide students and parents with information and resources to ensure safer schools for everyone.  As stated at the ERASE website,"There needs to be an integrated approach to prevent, address and/or reduce bullying, by developing the right partnerships with schools, parents, community and police.
Students who feel safe and are free to develop in healthy ways are far less likely to be involved in inappropriate activities. Students who are learning and thriving take pride in themselves, their school, their accomplishments and the accomplishments of those they are connected to."

This week, schools across our district will be emphasizing awareness and action campaigns designed to make safer schools a year long reality, rather than just a one day event. Improved social responsibility has been one of our district's stated achievement contract goals for many years, and campaigns that heighten awareness help support our meeting this goal. This week students elementary students from Robert Ogilvie and Duncan Cran Elementary schools will be making presentations to Fort St John city council, and on Wednesday there will be assemblies and school activities at several schools to mark the day.

Keeping schools safe is everybody's responsibility. We all have a role to play in promoting positive mental health and wellness, in supporting students, exhibiting positive social behaviour and in preventing incidents like bullying. This Wednesday, and every day, help us help each other by emphasizing the message that there is no place for bullying at schools and by serving as positive role models at home, at school and in the community. Our district motto is "Together We Learn". Certainly, when it comes to ensuring safer schools, learning and acting together is the best way to go.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Science Fair Season

Last week our district was proud to share the announcement that one of our students, Victoria Platzer, was returning from the Taiwan International Science Fair, held February 4th to 10th in Taipei, Taiwan with a gold medal earned in the Environmental Sciences category for her project, Hay Aliens.  Victoria, is the most recent winner in a long line of science far success stories for SD 60. Every year, the keen interests of our students combine with the dedicated support of many great teachers, to generate tremendous science fairs at our schools. And if your recollection of science fairs is cardboard back boards fronted with papier mache volcanoes spewing baking soda and vinegar, its time to look again. Science Fairs have done more than keep up with the times. Today's science fairs display 21st Century Learning at its best.

The new BC Ed plan talks about moving education to a place where every student enjoys personalized learning,  powered by technology with flexibility and choice, quality teaching displaying high standards of learning. Science Fairs is are already there. Allowing students to follow their passions into projects of their own choosing, science fairs impart a process of learning and presentation that serves students well beyond their projects. It connects them with mentor teachers who often give freely of their time both in, and out, of school hours. It can also connect students to community mentors with experience and knowledge about their projects. Such relationships often have two way benefits. Over time student connections can help secure part time or future employment and mentoring businesses see students as skilled and motivated future employees.

There is no doubt the work is being done to a high standard. As for employing technology, in science that's a given. The STEM disciplines - science technology engineering and Mathematics provide students with ample opportunities seek out and use, what ever they need to form their hypotheses, carryout their research and experiments, record and present their data, and determine where their efforts can take them next. 

While its sometimes said that knowledge is its own reward, Science fairs can bring participants other prizes too. Fairs are judged events. Starting even in the younger divisions, projects earn their creators recognition both in the form of feedback from knowledgeable judges, as well as certificates and medals. At regionals supportive volunteers and sponsors ensure that many prizes are available, and, as the students progress to older divisions, scholarships and opportunities for travel to national and international competitions can be won. Our district not only has a long proud tradition of sending students to such events, but also of having them win major honors up to and including university scholarships worth thousands of dollars.

When your child asks about going into this year's science fair, its definitely worth following up. Chances are there's a teacher at your school involved with the Science Fair committee. If you're not sure a call to the district office can quickly connect you to someone only too happy to help, or check out the Science Fair web page at Many schools will welcome your participation as a judge or volunteer as well. This year the Regional Science Fair returns south of the Peace to Dawson Creek, scheduled to take place April 16th at Central and DCSS, and efforts towards school fairs are already underway at many district site. Combining learning with fun and possibly further rewards - sounds like a winning combination doesn't it?

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Success by Any Measure!

There was a winter storm warning and travel advisory up for much of the North Peace Friday, but neither blowing snow, nor bitter temperatures could cool the warm feelings present at Prespatou Elementary Secondary School, as the community honoured its graduating class of 2015. A small, rural community located about 90 kilometers north of Fort St John, Prespatou has always taken pride in maintaining its own distinct character. Holding graduation ceremonies at the end of  first semester is just one of the ways their school has adapted to its community's needs and desires.

I was honoured to be invited to address the 21 students who crossed the stage receiving their graduation certificates. The class' grad theme was "life is black and white, now you fill in the colours". It was quickly evident that this year's grads are certainly a colorful bunch, and that already many of them have big plans for their futures.  What was also in evidence, was the tremendous pride parents and families have in the accomplishments of their children. The hall was packed with family and community members. It was obvious that graduation is a tremendously important milestone for this community, and that no one was going to let a little weather stop the celebration.

The Fraser Institute rankings are not often kind to schools like Prespatou.  By their ways of measuring, such schools consistently are listed near the bottom end of the scale. I would suggest that ceremonies like the one I attended this week show just how flawed such rankings are. Prespatou School boasts a near 100% graduation rate every year. Small community schools allow for more meaningful relationships between students and and staff. They are more attuned to community needs and values, and they are able to adapt and fine tune programs to better meet student needs. 

Connections run deep. Friday's ceremony included letters of congratulation from many teachers past as well as heart felt testimonials from current staff. Learning becomes a partnership, with students making just as much of an impression on their teachers as the other way around. There is genuine pride in accomplishment shared by students, staff and families. Such pride and commitment is clearly a measure of success that defies more traditional metrics. Starting as soon as next week, students will be taking what they've learned forward into jobs, additional studies and any number of opportunities, secure in the knowledge that they are high school graduates.

As I addressed the Prespatou graduates, I congratulated them on the forward thinking and planning that allowed them to be our first grads of 2015. Over the next five months, I am confident that our other grade 12 students will be diligently working towards meeting their own graduation requirements. The ceremonies that will follow in June may take place at a warmer time of year, but the Prespatou grad class has set a high standard of pride and performance for them to follow. I look forward to seeing how well they meet the challenge!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Steps In The Right Direction

Every year administrators and trustees hear complaints about the parking situations around our schools. While details vary site to site, most of the complaints carry a common theme - there are not enough parking spots, and the chaos resulting from too many cars in not enough space is putting students at risk.  Parents are right about the safety concern. Unfortunately the solution to the challenge may not be what many parents want to hear.

The most commonly requested solution to this issue is increased capacity. Concerned parents suggest that if only there were more parking, the problem could be licked. Sadly this is just not so. Schools were not designed with automobiles in mind. Community schools are built on the premise that students would walk to them or be delivered by bus. Schools have only a limited number of parking spaces, and these are allocated mostly for staff who need to be on site all day. A few additional spots are available for parents and visitors with the understanding that such vehicles will be coming and going and the spots can be used by several persons throughout the day. At most schools there is neither space, nor resources available to increase the number of parking stalls, and even if there were, increased capacity would only lead to increased numbers of vehicles, compounding an already serious safety issue.

The real answer to our traffic challenge lies in reducing the number of vehicles. In the past walking to school was common - even seen as a rite of passage. Today when parents are asked "why they don't let their students walk or ride to school?" two answers prevail - convenience and safety.  

Fearful that their children may get accosted by bullies, strangers, criminals, animals, rain, cold, snow, allergies or any other number of perils, many parents simply will not let their children go to school without adult supervision. Many parents pop their students in the car and drive them a few blocks before they head off to their daily routines. Ironically, the greatest danger for students who ARE allowed to walk to school becomes the other parents driving their kids.

Also ironic is the fact that in trying to keep their children safe, parents who drive their students may actually be contributing to their children's overall unhealthiness. Active Health Kids Canada (AHKC) reported that less than 7% of school age children get the minimum amount of daily exercise recommended by the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines. Walking to school would help correct this situation.

Certainly the school board has a responsibility towards maintaining safe facilities. Many parents have come forward with excellent suggestions including improved signage, volunteer or paid parking attendants, stop and drop zones or the establishment of pick up sites a few blocks from the school. Many of our schools have more easily accessible parking as close by as a 5 minute walk. Other northern jurisdictions have successfully implemented no parking zones around all public schools. The keys will be education, enforcement and cooperation.

The move to safe drop off and pick up areas requires drivers to be willing to park further away, to know what options are available, and for parents to allow students to walk greater distances to school. In some cases, it may indeed be time to examine redesigning school access routes or changing parking bylaws. Lots and driveways can become dated, and it never hurts to listen to new ideas. Similarly, the school board needs to work with municipal authorities to enforce, examine, review or revise traffic and parking bylaws with an eye to improving student safety and slowing or eliminating dangerous traffic patterns.

Keeping students safe is a worthy goal. Driving them everywhere is not the best answer. Finding better solutions to easing before and after school traffic will include solutions that slow people down. Having students get to school under their own power is better for the students, the environment and the community. Teaching parents to use parking alternatives that involve stopping safely further from the buildings can also help. Even one accident involving a student pedestrian is an accident too many. Working together we can all take steps to ensure our students get to and from school safely.