- by Michael Craig, Bluewater District School Board Trustee for Owen Sound

I have to admit, as a new trustee, that I’m surprised to learn how much schools have changed;  how much support is available to students from an academic, emotional and career-choice perspective.

After sixty years – yes, going back to my high school days – and having been an active parent and grandparent to six young people, and years ago a chair of Home and School, I thought that not much had improved since the bad old days.

What my grandkids reported led me to conclude that high schools today are as insensitive to student needs as those of the ‘50s.

Well, I’m pleased to report that, in many respects, I was wrong.

A case in point is the expansion of mental health services that I wrote about in January. At the Board’s website you can find a Guide to Mental Health Services that details ways that parents and school staff can recognize and provide support when a student is struggling.

Social and Emotional Learning

Many kinds of mental health professionals are part of the team. But let me tell you today about four child and youth workers, who used to focus on one school but are now reaching out to 15 elementary schools (8,600 student contacts), with more to come.

They are presenting and promoting SEL, Social and Emotional Learning, which will gradually become an integral part of every child’s school experience. This is, in short, learning how to handle feelings, anxiety and conflict.

As one of the CYWs explained, “SEL provides the building blocks for connection and the capacity for belonging. When students learn to identify their own emotions, they can learn how to manage them, and how to identify emotions in others.” Pretty cool, if you ask me – at least as important as the history of ancient Greece (which, by the way, I loved)!

As part of this program, the CYWs are introducing students to stress reduction techniques including breath control and muscle relaxation. We are acknowledging, finally, that anxiety and stress are often just as much of a challenge for children as adults.

Specialist High Skills Majors

How would you have felt as a high school student if you were able to get credits for studying something that intrigued you, that could lead to a career?

A Specialist High School Major, according to the Board website, is a “Ministry-approved specialized program that allows students to focus their learning on a specific economic sector while meeting the requirements for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), and assists in their transition from secondary school to apprenticeship training, college, university or the workplace.” 

Over twenty programs offered in Grey and Bruce high schools include transportation, health and wellness, architectural design, manufacturing and hairstyling and fashion.

Five components provide a range of academic and experiential learning experiences.

This doesn’t detract from the regular curriculum, but it really engages students around subjects and occupations that turn them on. Many students from the workplace and university-bound academic streams have benefitted from SHSMs – definitely a welcome innovation.

Some of our schools, in Owen Sound and beyond, are bursting at the seams – just look at the portables.

We’re paying the price for closing schools over past two decades just as new housing developments are about to deliver more students to our doors.

Though Board staff are working hard to make the business case for new or expanded schools, there is inevitably a lag between the need and the delivery of classrooms.

But meanwhile, I am pleased to report, in many other respects good things are happening.

Mr. Craig is representing his own opinions in these reports, not official Board policy.



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