SD 10 board, May 18: Alternative grad options mulled as COVID lingers

·6 min read

Drive-thru grad?

The pandemic continues to put a damper on public gatherings – disappointing news for this year’s grad students.

“It looks like we’re going to see a repeat of some of the restrictions that happened last year,” Superintendent Terry Taylor told the board.

New guidelines released in May outline four ways to hold graduation celebrations: a drive-through ceremony, a learning-group ceremony, individual ceremonies (allowing four guests) and ‘travelling roadshow’ ceremonies.

“These are tough choices, and our principals and vice principals are really struggling to figure out along with grads, grad parents and staff what would be best for their school,” Taylor said.

“But it isn’t normal, and we know our kids are missing some of the things that are incredibly normal around graduation.”

Mental Health outreach

School trustees were given a rundown of a mental health outreach program that’s been underway in the Arrow Lakes School District since the start of the year.

Aisha Mulhall was hired as a Mental Health Outreach Co-ordinator through special funding received from the Province. Working in New Denver and Nakusp, Mulhall reached out to youth and built up a needs assessment of programs the youth wanted to see.

They came up with three after-school programs to engage youth in healthy, positive activities: an ‘empowerment painting’ program, a manga-drawing workshop, and a jewellery-making workshop. Soccer, volleyball and rock climbing were also top suggestions.

The programs were popular and Mulhall told the board that she and her co-facilitator were able to get kids to open up, and they could provide guidance and support – even referring one student to counselling.

“It’s made a huge mark in a positive way on the communities working with youth,” said Assistant Superintendent Peter Dubinsky, commenting on Mulhall’s program. “Work like this often goes unnoticed because it’s done in part outside of the instructional day, but also combines inside the instructional day.”

SWAG finds connection with youth

Shared Wisdom and Growth (SWAG) is another program developed this year to reach out to students who were on the road to leaving the education system.

“Across the board in North America and elsewhere we’re seeing disengagement in the student body,” said Lucerne principal Nick Graves, who first developed the program with teachers Katrina Sumrall and Amanda Lytle. While in general there’s always been a certain amount of alienation and disengagement in the school system, it was “those who are cognitively disengaged… they would tend to be less successful and eventually drop out of school.”

Disengagement now is more complex and varied than it used to be. It can express itself as delinquency, substance use, misbehaviour and mental health issues, he said.

“We see it’s not just the C-minus students – it’s a wide range. Designing interventions needs to reflect those,” he told the board.

“COVID contributed a lot,” added Katrina Sumrall. “When the year started, I knew of six youth who were inclined to never start school and they just said ‘its not for me, I don’t want to, not interested.’”

So Sumrall started meeting with others concerned about engagement to try to come up with some ways to work with these youth to reengage them in the system. That drew Amanda Lytle, distributed learning teacher, into the conversation and another central figure, New Denver First Nations Elder Eloise Charet. A member of the district’s Indigenous Education Advisory Committee, Charet has worked to bring first peoples’ principles of learning, Indigenous worldviews and perspectives into the curriculum.

The group developed programming – drawing heavily on land-based and place-conscious learning – and reached out to students in Nakusp, New Denver, and Edgewood who were disengaging. And they listened to them.

“Those conversations — allowing them to feel seen, and heard, and understood – were really special,” said Lytle.

What started out as a simple idea has turned into a powerful engagement tool.

“They started to create connection and community, and kept coming back week after week, which has been incredible!” she said excitedly. “It has been next level.”

“This program isn’t about creating a different space,” concluded Grave. “Its about taking the strengths of all our communities and bringing out students to those communities and connecting them. So instead of a separate school, we’re trying to create something that connects all of our schools.”

The district plans to continue the SWAG program in the new school year.

New buses

The district is going to get three new school buses – and reduce its carbon footprint. That’s because two of the vehicles will be electric.

“Two buses are replacements for old busses requiring greater servicing and repairs given mileage and age, and one bus is to serve the growing number of students at Burton Elementary School,” Taylor told the board.

It’s part of a ministry drive to replace the entire provincial school bus fleet with electric vehicles by 2030. An electric charging station will be set up in Nakusp’s bus garage.

The systems are being set up with plenty of support from federal and provincial grants.

“Though less costly to operate and much better for the planet, initial purchase and infrastructure costs are higher for electric buses so this government support is much needed!” Taylor told the board.

Seeking local contractors

The ground has been broken for the new Nakusp Child Care Centre at Nakusp Elementary, and the general contractor on the job, Cormac, is reaching out to local subcontractors looking for work. So far, three local companies have been able to take part in the project – Arrow Lakes Redi-Mix, Trilar Sprinklers of New Denver, and the Nakusp Home Hardware. Taylor says anyone with skills or services for the project should reach out to the local site manager.

“There have been a number of RFPs that have gone out, and sometimes our local folks are coming in at bids that are higher than out-of-towners,” she told the board. “The work is here, but sometimes the price point has to be a little bit lower for local folks to get it.”

$2 million surplus

Chair Christine Dixon said it best about the district’s finances: “We look pretty rich.”

That’s because the board has more than $1 million in unrestricted funds to spend – and a surplus overall of more than $2.1 million.

The district’s operational spending is also down, about 9% less than at the same point last year.

“Obviously this year is not the same as previous years. There’s been a lot of volatility month to month,” said assistant secretary-treasurer Shelly Woolf. “Even though our budgets went up, our spending is only about $14,000 more than last year. So that’s where the gap is happening.”

Woolf says she thinks overall the more than $2 million surplus is good news, as it “sets us up for any unexpected things that might come up for next year’s budget. “So nothing to worry about there.”

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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