February 18th, 2019

Working to help Alberta’s students

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on September 14, 2018.

Welcome back!

That theme has been ever present in the minds of students, educators and parents over the last couple of weeks.

And for post-secondary students, this is vividly true as well. Here in Lethbridge, all our college and university students returned to class at Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge. These students have made a sizable financial investment in their education, and as they return to their studies, they have multiple stresses in their lives.

Many students are here from out of town, the first time in their lives they have experienced living away from their home and families. So, they are acclimating to our city, and their college and university campuses. I believe we have two of the most beautiful and interesting such settings in Canada, and I’m delighted to say Lethbridge College calls Lethbridge-East home. I know Lethbridgians are proud of the college and U of L, and welcome our students warmly each fall.

These students, either from the Lethbridge area, or those from out of town, from around Canada and further afield, have multiple challenges: situational, financial, personal, unfamiliarity and other issues, which play a role in their academic lives. Many are students returning to post-secondary after careers in various sectors, seeking a leg up as our economy and available jobs change with the tides of technology and time.

Our government has had a tuition freeze in place since 2015. This helps students keep costs from becoming even more of a barrier to seeking an education to further their participation in the economy, as they compete for jobs and solidify a base on which to build their lives. I am glad our minister of Advanced Education, Marlin Schmidt, with the support of our premier and caucus, has pursued this policy. As a result, tuition in Alberta is now lower than the Canadian average.

This is good for students across the income spectrum, as an issue of fairness.

Minister Schmidt, MLA for Edmonton-Gold Bar, was back in town this week, meeting with Lethbridge College students and college representatives to discuss various issues facing students, educators and administration tasked with delivering that education.

We attended sessions on mental health and available counselling services for those struggling not only with the pressures of academic life, but various other challenges that may be present as the student year rolls on.

The minister was pleased to hear firsthand how the Mental Health Grant has now helped students, staff and administration work together to provide supports needed to face some of these challenges. The feedback is that the mental health grant is highly valuable, and that the initiatives it funds should continue.

There were other sessions related to financial pressures, such as textbooks and supplies that students have to contend with, in addition to tuition and living expenses. It was informative for me to hear about those issues firsthand.

We had an interesting visit to the Lethbridge College Wind Turbine Technician Program. The minister took a virtual tour of what it was like to go up on one of those very high structures, and I was excited to take a crash course in ladder safety, and was able to climb up to the ladder platform provided in the instruction area – and climb down – safely, with harness properly attached, hard hat in place.

After that tour, we participated in a fantastic announcement: the grand opening of the Lethbridge College Pride Lounge! It was very well attended and Minister Schmidt spoke about in light of it being yet another example of a needed mental health support. Providing a safe, non-judgmental space for students to enjoy is a tremendous achievement for Lethbridge College Students Association, LCSA-LGBT+ Club, and Lethbridge College administration. It was truly a pleasure to be on hand to celebrate this new space. Also É cupcakes!

It is important to note all of this took place on World Suicide Prevention Day, and while I was not able to attend the sessions at Lethbridge Public Library, my thoughts and heartfelt appreciation were with Lethbridge Family Services Outreach & Education, Centre for Suicide Prevention, AHS, LEARN, EMS & Police, and all members of our community who presented at this event.

I was able to attend the Monday evening Sik-Ooh-Kotoki presentation, dinner and dialogue: Learning from the Experiences of the Bear Clan in Winnipeg. I attended the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony on Tuesday Sept. 11, at Southminster Church. It is a very poignant ceremony and a chance to sit in solidarity, reflection and appreciation with our first responders. Their service, often in the face of unforeseen consequences and great tragedy, is something we can all be grateful for.

Lethbridge-East Constituency Office can be reached at 403-320-1011 or Lethbridge.east@assembly.ab.ca. Walk-in hours are Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., unless otherwise posted. Don’t forget to check out SAEA’s “Taste of Mexico” Sept. 28!

Maria Fitzpatrick is the NDP MLA for Lethbridge East. Her column appears monthly.

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