Welcome back to a new school year students, staff and families!
It’s that time of year once again when we start to see school buses on our roads and children patiently waiting to be picked up. Others are seen walking to school, often in small groups, sometimes with new, colourful backpacks strapped around their shoulders, or sporting hardly worn running shoes, squeaking on the pavement. Soon enough, we will see frost covering the morning ground and the cool, crisp air of fall will fill our lungs. Routines change as our children adapt to new wake up times, and the hustle and bustle of getting ready for school in the early morning hours. As we enter our second fall during this time of pandemic, certainly, we can reflect on what we have learned over the last seventeen months. We learned the importance of being prepared for anything, and that today’s plans may need to substantially change by tomorrow. Although we have not returned to what we might consider a full sense of normal, I believe we start this year with a fair degree of confidence that the worst is behind us, and as vaccination numbers continue to rise, I hope you share in my hope and optimism that we will have a successful year without major disruption.
Last year, I started off the term sharing my thoughts about resilience and flexibility. This year, I wish to focus on empathy and how important this characteristic is as we rebuild connections and work to recover academically, socially and mentally.
We know these are still difficult times. This summer, I spent some time reading Jody Carrington‘s new book Teachers These Days: Stories and Strategies for Reconnection. The author talks about the importance of empathy and reconnecting in the classroom for students and staff to meet the ever-growing challenges of schooling and life. The first step to this reconnection is showing a genuine interest in the things that our students care about. She writes, “when we’re acknowledged for the things we like or don’t, for our story, for how difficult or exciting something is in a given moment, we warm toward that like sunshine. We’re more likely to take direction from, listen to, and learn from someone who sees us. This genuine interest is the foundation to empathy.”
I hope to build on my own sense of empathy by following this advice so I can contribute constructively to the work of recovery. Acknowledging the needs of others is foundational to building a better understanding of how to move forward in a positive direction. I intend to continue to reach out to our communities by talking to students, teachers, school leaders and parents, which will be vital to determine what we need to focus on as we take on this collective work to strengthen our schools. Recognizing the various needs of our fellow community members as we emerge from this pandemic will hasten our recovery.
I had a chance over the summer months to see some of the great work our operations and maintenance staff is doing to prepare our schools for the fall, as well as some of the ongoing capital project work. I was also able to pay a visit to our summer literacy programs. It was wonderful to see the engaging activities our summer program instructors planned and to witness the smiling faces of our young students building their literacy skills while having fun.
There is still much work to be done. With the support of Manitoba Education, the Mountain View School Division Board of Trustees continues to make investments in keeping our schools safe. A total of $700,000 has been earmarked to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic for the 2021-2022 school year. The dollars are being allocated to additional instructional staff for recovery learning and to provide better social distancing, professional development and training, youth support and attendance initiatives, school maintenance, literacy and numeracy programming and mental health support.
We collected feedback from our students, parents and staff in the spring on priorities as we emerge from COVID-19, and will be working on publishing a one-year plan in the coming days based on the direction set. Respondents emphasized the importance of mental health, extra-curricular activities and recovery learning as priorities. Schools have looked at their own survey results and will also be planning accordingly. More information on multiyear strategic planning will be available in the coming weeks.
We in MVSD are all working together to support students and families in having a positive start to the school year. I encourage families to get in touch with your local school to make those connections early. As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback and can be contacted at 204-638-3001 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I wish everyone a great start to the school year!