Hand sanitizer, masks and social distancing in our schools are paramount to maintaining a safe learning and working environment. The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) spent millions of dollars to ensure our students, families and staff felt comfortable and confident returning to school. Safety remains our number one priority – this will never change.
Yet, I think we sometimes forget to honour all we have done to ensure our students felt supported and included as they headed back to in-person learning or joined our two new virtual schools this September.
Supporting Inclusion and Belonging
A safe, inclusive and accepting school environment is necessary for our students to succeed. Returning to school following a worldwide pandemic required more than a new pair of shoes. We needed to be honest with our students and address the fact that living through a pandemic was complicated. We will need to work together more than ever. We can do this by listening and acknowledging that not everyone experienced the pandemic in the same way. So what has the Ottawa Catholic School Board done to make the return to school more manageable and better for our students?
Mental Health and Equity
The OCSB is using an asset-based approach in this post-pandemic era. We have created a new role that will allow a counselling psychologist or social worker to be present in 15 of our schools.
Their primary role will be to support principals and partner with educators in promoting mental health concerning cultural sensitivities and associated demands. In the simplest terms, an asset-based approach focuses on strengths. It views diversity in thought, culture and traits as positive assets. Asset-based teaching seeks to unlock students’ potential by focusing on their talents and celebrating what makes them unique.
Extracurricular activities are sometimes viewed as “nice to have.” While that may be true, these activities breathe life into school for some students and help them develop social skills, collaboration and a sense of community.
That is why the OCSB established an Outdoor Education local program to be deployed to a few of our schools to support extracurricular activities. The schools chosen share common traits that include:
- low EcoSchool Program uptake
- limited green space on their schoolyards
- limited access to community parks.
The hope is that by creating a space for extracurricular activities, students will feel a sense of community, belonging and wellbeing.
English Language Support
The OCSB will be initiating an individualized and centred approach to support Grade 7 and 8 English Language Learners in five different schools. An ELL teacher will monitor literacy and language acquisition while building relationships with families.
Addressing Learning Disruption
Two high schools will offer additional sections to address learning disruptions that happened during the pandemic. Some students found it more difficult to learn online. As a result, OCSB has created smaller/personalized class sizes to support re-engagement in two of our high schools.
As a board, we understand that community outreach and supporting families are privileges and responsibilities. Students do better academically and emotionally when there is a positive relationship between school and home. We have attempted to develop this partnership by hiring a temporary Indigenous Community Partner. They will help Indigenous students create school engagement pathways on the road to graduation.
Black Community Partner Support
We also recognize that we need to build better partnerships with the Black community. To do this, we are supporting a new program called Program Village. This program will be offered in eight of our schools and include tutoring, sessions on financial literacy and Black business supports.
Together We Can Build Back Better
“Build Back Better” is a phrase being used by community leaders around the world. And it is one I take to heart. We must learn from the pandemic. The measures I outlined above are just a few of the strategies underway at the OCSB to ensure everyone in our community has a voice.
We as education leaders must now listen so we can build on what we learned during the pandemic. Wouldn’t it be amazing if what comes out of this worldwide tragedy is that we are a more faith-filled and kind society?