June 17th, 2024

Lethbridge School Division supt. calls 2023 ‘year for rebuilding school community’

By Cal Braid - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 4, 2023.

Lethbridge School Division photo Lethbridge School Division superintendent Cheryl Gilmore, left, and Karen Baerg-Rancier, director of curriculum and instruction, meet at Gilmore's office.

After almost three tumultuous years of pandemic schooling, Dr. Cheryl Gilmore, superintendent of the Lethbridge School Division, is optimistic about moving forward with students and families into a more welcoming and engaging 2023.

“The past three school years certainly were challenging,” she said. “We had to consider and implement Alberta Health Services protocols and the logistics of that added tasks onto school administrators, teachers, and caretakers.”

She said that managing the learning and teaching part of it was a difficult task. Pivoting back-and-forth between in-school and at-home learning made it hard to maintain the continuity of learning.

“I have to commend the educators in our division and across the province for their flexibility and being able to deliver learning to students at home and at school. It was challenging in terms of trying to provide a context where the kids could learn from home. There were lots of things that were polarizing within the community and across the province. At the same time, I would say that our schools overall continued to deliver quality learning given the circumstances. I think that our schools were successful in prioritizing the health of children and youth, the health of staff, and the well-being of the community.”

One the positive side effects that Gilmore attributes to the pandemic is that it’s made her staff more tech savvy.

“The learning curve was steep, but now our staff have those skills and many of them integrate technology seamlessly,” she said, adding that families also became more proficient with it. However, “One of the challenges with technology is it’s not always equal in terms of families and their access to it. We did our best to try to facilitate equity of access, but it’s simply circumstance.”

She said another one of the positives was the continuing implementation of the province’s Thinking Classrooms initiative, which places emphasis on critical thinking and “falls under the umbrella of universal design for learning.” What that means is no matter where a student is at with their learning, they can access the curriculum.

“That’s really important for the system because we have what the province calls interrupted learning, which means we’ve got a greater breadth of where students are at in the classroom.” As an example of Thinking Classrooms she used a social studies class discussing regions of Canada; it would start by having students talk about what they know about Canada, it’s regions, or the climate. Then, whether the student knows a little or a lot, they can engage by both contributing and listening to others to expand their knowledge.”

Gilmore envisions 2023 as a year for rebuilding school community and wants to welcome back parents, families, and community members to “celebrate the amazing talents of the children and young men and women in our schools.” Drama and music productions, as well as sporting events are all important components of this.

“Parents are incredibly important partners in furthering learning in our students,” she said. “It’s a real focus for our schools that parents are welcome and feel like they’re connected to the school.”

She noted that the school division has also made great strides in technology innovation. She said that they’ve developed an Esports arena at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, as well as virtual reality 360 experiences, for which Dr. Robert Plaxton was the pilot school. They are now partnering with the university to develop more 360 experiences. This year they’ve also implemented a Trace Pathways program with Lethbridge College, where prospective post-secondary students can start to do some work at the college level prior to graduation. The program is designed to create a more seamless transition from high school to post-secondary.

The school division also received money for a mental health project called Digital Education and Intervention.

“We have received $360,000 and will be hiring a digital education teacher as well as a social worker. They’ll be focusing on how wellness is connected to student engagement with social media. A lot of our challenges right now in terms of student wellness as well as student conflict is grounded in the use of social media.”

Gilmore praised local business and industry for playing a crucial role in creating opportunities for young people. She called their support, “Next to none. In Lethbridge we have more registered apprenticeship program students than in Calgary. That is absolutely due to excellent off-campus programs, our campus coordinator, and also the support of business and industry.”

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