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Response plan helps Chinook School Division to address pandemic impact on learning

Posted on 5 October 2021 by Matthew Liebenberg

Superintendent of Learning Bob Vavra provides a learning update during a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, Sept. 13.

The response by the Chinook School Division to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning is already delivering positive results.

Superintendent of Learning Bob Vavra and Curriculum Coordinator Léanne Marchand provided a learning update and spoke about the learning response plan during a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, Sept. 13.

The Chinook board has set a goal for 80 per cent of students to be at or above grade level in reading, writing and math. The school division expected to meet this goal last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic interfered.

“To be honest, we were very disappointed, because we were well on pace to exceed all the provincial bench marks for literacy, math, reading, writing, graduation rates, all of those things, and then COVID struck,” Vavra said after the board meeting.

The province-wide suspension of classes in March 2020 meant those data were not collected. The collection of data was downscaled since then. Reading results were collected, but math and writing assessments were placed on hold and will not be done in 2021-22.

They were unsure what to expect from the collection of reading results in November 2020, although they expected the reading levels will be lower than before.

“We really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We thought there would be an impact on results, but maybe not the impact that we thought initially. And so when we did our first set of data collection in November 2020, we were quite a bit lower than what we’ve been in the past.”

The overall reading results for November 2020 indicated 52.6 per cent of students were meeting or exceeding expectations. This was noticeably lower than the data collected in November 2019, when 70.6 per cent of students were meeting or exceeding expectations.

The November 2020 reading results showed the impact varied for different grade levels. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations were 65.3 per cent in Grade 1, 42.9 per cent in Grade 2, 48.7 per cent in Grade 3, and 72.3 per cent in Grade 6.

The impact of the pandemic on French immersion reading results were even more significant. The overall results in November 2020 indicated only 22.6 per cent of students were meeting or exceeding expectations.

In response to these results, the school division took steps to address the lower reading results in a proactive manner.

“And so the curriculum coordinators came up with a plan,” he said. “The senior leadership and the board were very supportive of that, and we were able to put resources into schools and then address those areas.”

According to Marchand the curriculum coordinators felt they could not wait until the next school year to do something.

“We sat down with our literacy coaches and the math coaches, and we brainstormed what could we do, what could schools do in their classroom, and what could we do as a division to support that,” she said. 

There were recommendations for steps to be taken in all areas, varying from supports in relation to training to the allocation of additional staff.

“There were recommendations to principals to share with their teachers as to what they could be doing to shift things so that we could see those results go up, and also some training,” she said. “There was hiring that happened. Every school got a little bit of an allocation to hire additional staff and then just some scheduling recommendations. We trained extra staff, we put in more coaching, everything that we could do at the division level and then also provided more individual supports to teachers during that time so we could see an improvement.”

A variety of literacy and math supports were provided to teachers and schools. The Teacher Supports for Learning website was developed, which was also used by parents for students who were learning from home. Online resources and subscriptions were purchased to assist teachers in class and with remote learning.

The learning response plan included additional staffing for literacy and math intervention. The school division purchased additional levelled literacy intervention kits. There were webinars and additional professional development training for educational assistants and teachers, as well as ongoing literacy and math coaching.

According to Vavra the Chinook School Division was unique in the province with its approach to already start with the implementation of a learning response plan six months ago.

“It really stemmed from the data,” he said. “We looked at the data and we saw where the kids were at, and then we put a plan in place. We wanted to make sure we’re getting them back as close as they could, but we wanted to do it in a way that wasn’t overwhelming for schools or for students. And so we basically relied on what we’ve been doing for years, which is our intervention plan, but with the extra funding we got, we were able to put in more staff at that time.”

Marchand added that the school division was very aware of the need to start as soon as possible with measures to address the impact of the pandemic on student learning.

“With literacy and learning, you always have to have a sense of urgency,” she said. “You can’t sit back and wait. You have to take the time you have and do what you can in a minute. So that’s where we were coming from.”

The reading results from June 2021 indicated this approach and the steps taken by the school division were working. The overall result showed that 70.6 per cent of students were meeting or exceeding expectations, which was an improvement of 18 per cent compared to the results in November 2020.

The reading results for different grade levels in June 2021 were also higher compared to November 2020. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations in June 2021 were 70.2 per cent in Grade 1, 68.2 per cent in Grade 2, 70.5 per cent in Grade 3, and 73.2 per cent in Grade 6.

The improvement in reading results for French immersion students were even more significant, with 86 per cent of students meeting or exceeding expectations in June 2021. This was an increase of 62 per cent compared to the reading results in November 2020.

The school division’s learning response plan for 2021-22 will continue to focus on literacy and math interventions. Similar levels of supports, resources and training will be provided than last year, and there will also be interventions to support targeted areas for improvement.

“Part of that is we talked to the schools to analyze their own data to see where the weaknesses are in their schools and then to put the supports in place,” Vavra said. “And so that’s what they’re doing currently. They’re looking at their student data and then they’re working with curriculum and with learning and with their own superintendents to put supports in place that fit the needs of their building.”

There is also a new area of focus for 2021-22 on mental health and wellbeing, which is considered to be an essential part of the response to the impact of COVID-19.

It already started in the spring of 2021, when the school division arranged a virtual presentation by clinical social worker and psychotherapist Lynn Lyons to teachers and parents about dealing with anxiety. There were over 700 participants for this presentation.

Kevin Cameron, an expert in traumatic stress, made a presentation to all Chinook principals on mental health during the pandemic.

“We knew re-engagement and reconnecting was going to be important,” Vavra said. “We thought that we had to do things even before the year started, and that’s why we brought in anxiety experts, we brought in trauma experts, and that’s why we did some of the things where we connected them to supports last year to help prepare for this year.”

The school division added extra counselor supports for schools for the 2021-22 school year, and there were various mental health and well-being activities during the opening days of the new school year.

All Chinook schools need to have a mental health and well-being plan for 2021-22. These school plans have to address four areas — individual supports, classroom supports, school and division supports, and family and community supports. Schools will receive ongoing supports from Student Services with their plans.

There will be a survey on mental health and wellness issues among Grade 10-12 students during the 2021-22 school year. This information will be shared with schools and counselors to help them focus on specific areas of improvement.

Vavra noted the provincial government is providing funding to assist the Chinook School Division to train individuals in each school building in mental health first aid.

“By November one person from every building will be trained in that,” he said. “They’ll be able to recognize and do some kind of basic level supports, but also then connect with 13 counsellors in the division that are connected to all schools, who will come in to give more supports. And then if it’s beyond that, then we’ll connect them to outside agencies.”

Superintendent of Learning Bob Vavra provides a learning update during a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, Sept. 13.

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