For more than 30 years, Saskatchewan has dedicated one full week every year to celebrate student achievement and recognize the commitment of education professionals across the province.
This year, however, that commitment hits closer to home for a lot of people. Connecting and Learning in New Ways pays tribute to the resiliency and leadership schools have shown over the last nine months as they quickly adapted to continue to connect with students, families and one another during this unprecedented year.
During Education Week, the Ministry of Education is highlighting stories from a few Saskatchewan schools that have incorporated very creative ideas and approaches to ensure students are learning and connecting.
Back to the Land: Barr Colony School Students Experience Land-based Learning
The COVID-19 pandemic is revealing some amazing ways we can connect with nature in a safe and fun way. More Saskatchewan people are camping, fishing or discovering new things that the land has to offer, and students from across the province are getting into the mix and are enjoying safe, alternative learning options.
In October, students at the Barr Colony School in Lloydminster Public School Division took a break from the indoor learning to participate in a tipi raising event as part of their Indigenous Studies class.
The Tipi Teachings were presented as the tipi was raised. The students learned about the virtue each pole represents and about the Indigenous worldview and perspective.
The tipi raising and Mihkowap teachings align with the Grade 4 curriculum as well as the Grade 6 curriculum. Students attended the raising in their cohorts to ensure COVID-19 protocols were followed. After the raising, Grade 6 cohorts learned about how the First Nations used the poles as a calendar and how it connects to the land.
The schools also leveraged digital media to give more students access to the event. The raising was live-streamed and recorded for students to tune in from their classrooms.
Holistic Learning the Norm: Prairie Sky School Curriculum Focuses on Art, Community and Nature
Prairie Sky School is an independent Kindergarten to Grade 8 school located in Regina. Providing a holistic education based in art, community and nature, the school has a unique approach to providing the Saskatchewan curriculum to their students.
Prairie Sky self-identifies as an outdoor school, which means that classes frequently take place in – you guessed it – the outdoors. As medical health experts have identified that outdoor learning can play a role in minimizing the spread of COVID-19, Prairie Sky has continued to prioritize outdoor learning through the construction of several new outdoor classrooms and portable sinks based around the school grounds. They have also implemented daily temperature checks as students enter the school yard, a four-day school week to ensure an extra day for cleaning and less potential for exposure, and mandating masks for all staff and students.
As part of their perspective on education, Prairie Sky also views social, emotional and physical well-being as equally important to academic achievement. That is why within the Prairie Sky School: 2020-2021 Safe School Plan, talking circles involving both students and their teachers occur daily, while online Community Wellness Sessions are held monthly. This initiative is helping to ensure that mental health and wellness is a priority as we navigate the pandemic together.
In 2008, Prairie Sky began as many good ideas do; a group of passionate, community-minded people gathered in a living room, sharing ideas of what is possible. It is in this spirit that in 2020 and throughout the pandemic, that they continue to provide a truly holistic education alternative for local families and in a manner that naturally complies with the Saskatchewan Safe Schools Guidelines.
The Faces of Fransaskoisie: Exploring Fransaskois Identity through Art
Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (CÉF) students at École Boréale in Ponteix recently had the opportunity to explore the expression of their Fransaskois identity through a workshop offered by local artist Michèle Mackasey, themed “The faces of Fransaskoisie.”
In the context of COVID-19, the artist prepared and sent a box to the school containing all materials needed to proceed with the activity designed to teach students how to create a self-portrait. CÉF community partner Conseil culturel Fransaskois produced and posted a video showing students how to approach the undertaking. In it, the artist demonstrates dry pastel techniques and explains all the production steps. Each participant produced a portrait of themselves as a Fransaskois. These were then exhibited in the school’s community hall for the enjoyment of guests, who were welcomed sparingly.
“Fransaskois schools have a threefold academic, cultural and community mandate," notes École Boréale Principal, Amadou Touré. “The connection between the school and the community is at the heart of the educational approach favoured by Fransaskois schools across Saskatchewan."
Even when pandemics strike, identity and engaged citizenship matter, perhaps now more than ever.
Île-à-la-Crosse Back to School Video
As schools across Saskatchewan prepared for the return of students and staff back in September, school administrators throughout the province were faced with an additional challenge – alleviating the concerns of their local school community about their pandemic readiness.
Administrators had confidence in the additional measures that had been put in place to ensure a safe return to their classrooms, but the challenge of ‘how to let the community know they were ready’ remained.
Rossignol High School in the northern Saskatchewan community of Île-à-la-Crosse developed a video, giving parents and students in the community a walk-through tour of the school. The video gives a clear picture of the measures implemented by the school and Ile-a-la Cross School Division, in order to ensure a safe return for students and staff.
“It’s important to let parents know what we’re doing to make sure the building is safe,” said Principal Vince Ahenakew, “as we keep the education wheel turning in Île-à-la-Crosse.”
In addition to giving the community a look at the social distancing, community hygiene and traffic flow measures put in place to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment for staff and students, the video further connects with the community, with Michif greetings from Principal Ahenakew.
Creative and effective communication to the community about the steps taken to ensure a safe return to classrooms made a difference to the community, providing parents, students and staff with peace of mind in these unprecedented times.
New Traditions for Class of 2020
Graduation traditions looked a little different for Saskatchewan’s classes of 2020 this spring.
Due to challenges triggered by the pandemic, high school seniors were not able to celebrate with prom dates, cross a stage with classmates to collect their diplomas, or toss their caps high into the skies as a final good-bye.
Despite these challenges, Clavet Composite School in Prairie Spirit School Division and the surrounding community embarked on an innovative mission to ensure that the legacy of the Class of 2020 would live on, and that future students would understand the impact of the pandemic for years to come.
The Grad 2020 Legacy Tree Project is one that comes full circle. Following the hard work of a number of community members, 43 fruit and evergreen trees were planted – one for each Clavet Class of 2020 graduate – in three circles and at least two metres apart. While this is symbolic in itself, the work continued.
In collaboration with their teachers, students built a bench that now sits in the centre of the trees and features a plaque dedicated to the Class of 2020. They have also ensured that the trees remain safe, inserting stakes and wrapping protective sheaths around the trunks. Following the thaw of winter, Clavet staff and students will work to install an irrigation system to promote the growth of the trees. As the trees mature, not only will they provide a source of learning for future science lessons, they will also bear fruit for the Clavet Breakfast Program.
It is the work of school communities like Clavet Composite, Barr Colony, Prairie Sky and so many others across the province that make us so proud of the Saskatchewan education sector. Through innovation and resiliency, our school leaders have come together to ensure our students can continue to connect and learn in new ways we never imagined before. So for that, we thank them all.