July 17th, 2024

Holy Spirit school division seeing higher enrolment and some challenges

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on January 6, 2024.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Holy Spirit Catholic School Division board chair Carmen Mombourquette reflects on 2023 and all the positive outcomes and challenges the division experienced throughout the year.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division board chair Carmen Mombourquette, says 2023 was marked with many highlights and accomplishments designed to better meet the evolving needs of students.

“When surveyed in the spring parents, students and teachers indicated that our schools are safe, caring and welcoming,” said Mombourquette in a recent interview.

He said the Catholic school system takes students out into the community to bring their faith to others.

“In a recent newsletter from Catholic Central High School, the principal indicated that since its inception, the Christmas hampers program has now reached a total of $600,000 in donations that go back out into the community,” said Mombourquette.

 He said students at all their Catholic schools have embraced their responsibility to care for others, just as the school community cares for them.

 Mombourquette said survey data also indicated that parents, students and teachers recognize the division’s schools continue to offer a high quality of education and this data is backed with solid provincial achievement testing results and diploma exam results.

“Included in the data around quality of education, is the tremendous impact that caring and dedicated teachers and staff are having on self-declared Indigenous students. We know that Indigenous students who enter and stay in our schools, graduate with the same success rate as all other children,” said Mombourquette.

 He said the next steps for the division includes making an even bigger impact with their more transient students because once they can get them to stay enrolled, they also will graduate from high school.

 Mombourquette said with the return to a more normal state of affairs in their schools as a result of the declining influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in student enrolment.

 “Year over year, we have seen an increase in almost 250 new students choosing a Holy Spirit school. In so many ways this is equivalent to adding an entire new elementary school to the division. This student growth has been particularly felt in West Lethbridge and the Alberta Education announcement of a new Catholic school for this part of the city was very well-timed,” said Mombourquette.

He said even though the new school is just in the planning stages, Holy Spirit is hopeful to have everything ready for a groundbreaking ceremony this fall.

Mombourquette said the growth has also impacted one of their oldest schools in the city – St. Francis Junior High School- which is experiencing record enrolment numbers.

“The building itself cries out for a major overhaul – the St. Francis building needs to be brought up to 21st century standards so as to meet the cutting-edge programming that the staff offers to the students,” said Mombourquette.

 As a board of trustees, Mombourquette said they have had numerous conversations with local MLA’s, Alberta Education officials and the new Minister of Education around what is known as the weighted moving average, and how the WMA has not kept pace with providing schools the funding needed to keep up with needed resources.

 “The Minister of Education has been very supportive of our need here in Holy Spirit and recognizes that a funding mechanism designed for falling enrolment does not provide the flexibility required to meet new need coming from drastic increase. As a board we are hopeful that the 2024 provincial budget will adjust the WMA.”

Mombourquette said some ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continued to be felt academically in 2023, particularly in those who are now in Grade 4.

 “They were the students who missed much of their kindergarten experience due to schools being shuttered, then when entering Grade 1 they were in and out of school depending on COVID severity. The same uncertainty of being in school or moving to at home learning continued into Grade 2,” said Mombourquette.

He said as these children started their formal education experience, they didn’t have the same experience as previous generations of students and as a result issues around socialization, understanding how to play together, understanding how to be part of a team, and understanding that they also have responsibility for those around them are now appearing in students in Grades 4 and 5.

 “Some of those things that children naturally learn in kindergarten and Grade 1 are now starting to notice with our students in Grade 4, Grade 5 and Grade 6, that they need some additional help. It’s not that it’s missing because children are nice to each other, but they need some reinforcement and we’ve been able to put some supports in there,” said Mombourquette.

 He said the Minister of Education listened to Holy Spirit’s request for help to meet these new and emerging needs in 2023 and the school division received a number of major grants designed to help students with mental health issues and additional supports for literacy and numeracy gaps, as well as targeted funds to deal with some of the complex issues faced with the classrooms.

“We’ve been able to put in place a group that we call the ‘I swag team’ that is working both with Indigenous students, but also all other students within the school division, to help them gain a better sense of where they belong and how they belong, and the importance that they have to offer to their larger community,” said Mombourquette.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic also interrupted some fundamental academic building blocks of children who are now in junior high school, and they were very curious in 2023 about how their students were going to perform in their Grade 9 provincial achievements.

 “We were curious and expected a significant drop, but we were pleased when we didn’t see that happen. Children have been achieving about as well as they always had within the Grade 9 cohort.”

 Mombourquette said they were also worried about an increase in high school dropout rates and the possibility of diploma examinations not being passed because of the residual impacts of the pandemic but they did not experience that either.

 “We still have probably one of, if not the lowest dropout rate in the province. Children are staying in our schools, and I think because they stay in school, they’re also doing well academically.”

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