June 14th, 2024

Holy Spirit school division recovers from pandemic impacts in 2022


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on January 3, 2023.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Carmen Mombourquette, board chair for the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, says 2022 was a year of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and he is looking forward to 2023 and the possibility of a new westside elementary school, among other things.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

The year 2022 was a very busy year for the board of trustees of the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division while recovering from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chair of the HSCSD board of trustees, Carmen Mombourquette, said COVID-19 continued to impact the overall operations of the division throughout 2022.

“That impact led to meetings, advocacy, policy development on behalf of the board of trustees. Most important part however, has been centred around the advocacy for supports for children and the impacts that the COVID-19 impact had on them, on their mental health and also on their educational achievement,” said Mombourquette.

He said within the school division itself teachers continue to do a tremendous job keeping children learning while at the same time attending to their needs.

“Family school liaisons and mental health therapists have been continuing to do the work that’s necessary to keep children focused on learning,” said Mombourquette.

He said the school trustees advocated to the provincial government throughout the year to close learning gaps that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and gained access to more resources for students from Grade 1 to Grade 4.

“They recognize from the various data that had been forwarded to them from the school boards around the province, that with the amount of in and out of school, the amount of school closures, the amount of time the children went to online rather than having immediate access to their teachers inside the classrooms resulted in what is simply come to be known as ‘learning gaps’,” said Mombourquette.

He said the gaps were particularly noticeable in literacy development and numeracy and the provincial government invested heavily within the early years to provide some added resources to the school division.

“In turn we could hire some extra people to do some intensive enrichment and catch up with children that need it. For children that were shown to be really at risk, there were some very nice increases in their learning that occurred from some post evaluation of data,” said Mombourquette.

He said the other aspect that was shown to be affected by the pandemic was mental health and they realized that the regular resources they have available to access as a school division for regular years, was simply not sufficient to deal with everything that children are dealing with as they process what that pandemic meant to them.

“Children struggle coming out of that, and to make sense of all of this the province has been starting to provide some specialized grants for school divisions in order for them to now start working with children in a deep way, while also recognizing that teachers are not mental health providers,” said Mombourquette.

He said the specialized supports they need in order to work with children at that level needs to come from the outside, done in coordination with schools, to deliver mental health work as partners.

“The other area of work throughout this past year involves our advocacy within the Ministry of Education itself, but also with the Ministry of Infrastructure as we are critically short of classroom space, learning space for children on the West side of Lethbridge,” said Mombourquette.

He said Father Leonard Van Tighem School is past the point of being full, St. Patrick’s Fine Arts Elementary School is full, and Children of St. Martha Elementary School is using all of their learning spaces to provide education to children from very diverse backgrounds that attend that school.

 “We simply don’t have room anymore to accommodate the needs of our Catholic children on the West side,” said Mombourquette.

He said the school division trustees have been in conversation with both the Minister of Education and Minister of Infrastructure trying to present data-driven reasons as to why now is the time to have the provincial government free up the funds for the school division to build a new elementary school in the West side of the city.

“We’re hoping that come February or March when they announce the next round of new schools it would be included, but it takes a lot of conversation with politicians which is what trustees provide and it also takes a lot of conversations with our school division’s administration with the members of both of those ministries themselves,” said Mombourquette.

He said another area the trustees have been working towards is their continued work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, their parents, and the community.

“We continue to grow items that were already very successful, and one item that pleases me to no end is being well above provincial averages in relationship to First Nations maintaining their graduation rates,” said Mombourquette.

He said that self-declared First Nations, Métis or Inuit children who attend Holy Spirit Catholic schools have a high likelihood to graduate from high school.

“If they want to go into the world of work, or if they want to go into the world of college or university, they’re well prepared to do that. Those graduation numbers are something that we’re very proud of, but also recognize that until we get 100 per cent, we are not happy and we’re continuing to push towards that level,” said Mombourquette.

He said part of the reason why they are not at 100 per cent is because of how much harder First Nations, Métis and Inuit children got hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic hit all children hard, but hit them harder in the sense of that buses were shut down for extended periods of time in order to prevent the pandemic coming into their community and seriously impacting the elder population, and the ongoing impact continues to be on children and their learning,” said Mombourquette.

He said those were three big items the trustees have been very busy with throughout 2022.

“We look forward to 2023 and are very optimistic about a new school being proclaimed, about our work expanding in the area of our First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, and we’re really looking forward to the moves we can make next year with some amazing teachers and support staff and all of those schools to really narrow those learning gaps experienced by our children,” said Mombourquette.

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