CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Alberta students, educators, and school staff will be heading back to in-classroom learning in September.
The Alberta Government recently released its 2021-2022 School Year Plan, announcing kids will be back in class post-pandemic thanks to the success of vaccines.
“Albertan’s, including the Early Childhood Services (ECS) to Grade 12 education system, made tremendous efforts during the 2020-2021 school year to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and manage its effects,” states the Alberta Government.
“With the availability of vaccines, Alberta is lifting health restrictions and getting back to normal. The 2021-2022 School Year Plan is based upon Stage 3 (reopening) of Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan that sees the lifting of all COVID-19 related restrictions.”
The Alberta Government says the plan revolves around the following four principles:
- The safety of children, students, and staff comes first.
- Children and student learning will continue.
- Provincial funding is still flowing to schools.
- School authorities have the flexibility to do what is best for their community
And while the government says it collaborated with educators on its 2021/22 plan, President of the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) Jason Schilling says the ATA wasn’t consulted and therefore had no input.
“We’ve shared information through the course of the school year, but there were certain things that I think that we need to address moving into the school year in the fall,” he said.
“We have an opportunity to reimagine a better, stronger, more inclusive future for our students and public education in Alberta.”
Schilling explains the association will be putting together and releasing their own list of things they would like to see improved in the school system, likely that will be ready in August.
For children who aren’t in summer or year-round school, summer break means playdates and spray parks.
Meantime, many educators are using this time to reflect and prepare for the next school year.
Training and Product Development Manager at Sonderly Adriana Karka explains she witnessed firsthand the toll the pandemic took and also saw the gaps in training when it comes to educating kids with neuro-diverse needs.
“The pandemic has stressed the need for a more inclusive approach to teaching,” said Karka.
Her suggestion is beyond traditional learning, post-pandemic, Alberta’s educators need better access to vetted learning materials, ensuring they’re prepared to support students.
“From tailoring course curriculums to meet the digital needs of virtual schooling, to ensuring educators are well-equipped and therefore, confident, in working with students with various learning needs,” she said.
Alberta educator Shandelle Reeves says despite pandemic-related challenges, both students and educators developed skills which will likely benefit them in the future.
“Virtual learning was a significant hurdle to have to adjust to–but in retrospect, we have a much better understanding of technology’s role in the education system, and the many digital solutions out there to support educators with teaching, and students with learning,” she said.
Schilling explains surveys they conducted throughout the course of the year showed many educators felt the same way as Reeves. It was a lot of work meeting their student’s needs, while also shifting between online and in-person learning.
“When we look at school in the fall we really need to spend some time focusing on just learning and the needs that teachers and students have at this time,” he said.
“So one of the things about the back-to-school plan that the government put out that I was disappointed to see was that we’re going to return back to standardized testing, so PATs and Diploma exams. If we could take that pressure of those standardized tests of students and teachers for this next year going forward and just let them focus on learning.”
Reeves explains interactive technology resources played a key role in her personal growth as an educator.
“To help improve my ability to support students of mine with neuro-diverse needs or any mental health challenges they might be dealing with,” she said.
“Personally, Sonderly has been a great tool for educators like myself to work through bite-sized modules on things like how to navigate sensory processing differences among students, or simply to learn how to chart a path to success in the classroom.”
ATA policy is to have a school councillor in every building, something Schilling says will be particularly important as they expect mental health will be a huge factor for students in the fall.
“So we need to start looking at those ways of how we can better support students and teachers,” he said.
“I think the plan needs to have more concrete provisions for schools, and teachers to access for students and for themselves as well its really just a list of websites and links but there’s going to need to be more for schools.”