Sask. Rivers bring students new learning initiatives

Jodi Schellenberg
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Although their main focus is literacy and student achievement, the Sask. Rivers School Board members are constantly bringing new learning initiatives to their students.

Sask. Rivers board chair Barry Hollick explained some of the new initiatives the school division has for students in the Prince Albert region.

One of their newest initiatives is the idea of student trustees sitting on the board.

“In 2010, most of our board attended a conference in Ottawa put on by the Canadian School Board Association and at that time we received some information about student trustees,” board chair Barry Hollick explained. “They are actually in existence in the province of Ontario, they actually have it in part of their Education Act that calls for them.”

Every school board in Ontario that wishes to have student trustees can put a couple on their board.

“We looked at that and we were quite impressed with having a formal student voice like that at the table,” Hollick said. “We are not allowed to have student trustees in Saskatchewan because we don't have legislation that covers it but we thought we want it here from our students.”

Since they cannot have student trustees, instead the Prince Albert board decided to set up a student voice forum, to let the students give their opinions directly to the board.

Two students from each high school -- including those in the city and rural areas -- meet with the board members for a day twice a year and discuss subjects like classes, subject matter and bullying which are “key issues students are dealing with.”

Sask. Rivers did lobby the provincial government through the Saskatchewan School Board Association to get student trusteeship in Saskatchewan but it didn’t pass.

Since it didn’t pass on their first try, Hollick said they will be getting more information from Ontario and bringing the resolution back in the next couple years.

“It is a direction we want to see the province move in is to put student trustees at the board tables,” Hollick said.

They do not want to see the students making financial or personnel decisions, but they want to hear their voices when working on policies, Hollick explained, which will have to be outlined in their proposal.

“You go to many of our conferences and they will often have a student panel there and have students from various ethic backgrounds and grade levels,” Hollick said. “They ask questions to the students and the students share their perspectives. Trustees really sit up and listen to that because it something other than hearing from your principals … You actually get to hear directly from them so we are quite keen on seeing this student trusteeship go forward.”

Listening to the students is important because they are who the school board is working for.

“Students are so engaged in what is happening in their schools and amongst one another,” Hollick said. “We think it is going to be really beneficial to the board and the people who run our school division to hear that.”

Another initiative is bring the Paul Martin Foundation Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program to Prince Albert.

“Former prime minister Paul Martin has put money aside to help First Nations students become entrepreneurs in their communities,” Hollick said. “He has an program in which they are mentored by local business people and we just got approval to go ahead.”

The program will be offered starting in February in the three city high schools -- Carlton, Wesmor and PACI.

“There are many blocks to (First Nations) people in developing their own businesses,” Hollick explained. “This is a program that is already in existence in Saskatoon and Regina and we went and had a look at it in Regina. We were quite impressed and thought we would go ahead and implement the program.”

He said even the Saskatchewan School Board Association was impressed with the program and made it a provincial initiative.

“We are in partnership with the School Board Association based out of Regina to launch this in our three schools and we have staff selected and trained,” Hollick said. “We are quite excited because as you are aware our First Nations population is huge and this is something that will be a great benefit for those students.”

The class will give the students who take it a high school credit and it will help them even if they decide not to become business owners.

“They also get that mentorship connection to business community and it is a tremendous benefit even if they don’t become entrepreneurs,” director of education Robert Bratvold said. “It will give them lots of great insight and skills in terms of business operations, employment and management type of skill set too. It is a great thing for kids.”

It is not funded by the provincial government but after speaking with the Minister of Education, Hollick said they are looking into the program.

“They are going to take a look at it again … He said some people in the government felt the Chamber of Commerce had a similar type program but I told him that our Chamber in Prince Albert does not sponsor Junior Achievement,” Hollick said. “He took note of that and he said they will look at it again -- if the provincial government becomes a part of this as well, that would be great for the program.”

A third project the school board is working on is the Emergency Services program, which was launched at the Catholic division’s St. Mary High School but impacts those going to Wesmor as well.

“We have the emergency response team located up in Marquis Road in Prince Albert and they are going to offer a credit class that they can learn to be their trade or vocation,” Hollick said. “They can train to be firefighters, paramedics, or police officers.”

Since it was developed locally, Hollick said it is a pilot project in the city.

“It is another great example of a partnership program that serves the needs of kids in a community,” Bratvold said. “It is in partnership with some other minister departments. It is a dual credit course so kids learn some great skills -- it is like that entrepreneurship program -- great skills, great value in terms of that course and credit.”

Not only is it a great experience for the students, it is also something of value to the community.

“With entrepreneurship we have business skills or people to start their own business and for this one there are people who will become able to be a volunteer of paid emergency responder,” Bratvold said.

“Even if they don’t chose it as a vocation, they don’t want to be a firefighter or paramedic professionally but they get training -- people who live in our rural areas or resort areas are always looking for volunteer firefighters,” Hollick added. “They will have that skill and it is something that they will basically be able to help any community they live in when they take that as a class. It is a high school credit.”

Often mine sites or construction companies have emergency response teams and students who complete the course will have the opportunity to be on those teams.

Although they have many new initiatives, Bratvold said they will never lose sight of their main goal -- literacy and student achievement.

“Sometimes it is easy to overlook that,” Bratvold said. “There are great things happening with kids in terms of literacy and those types of things.

“These other things -- the Carlton gym, the emergency services and those -- are great things that attract attention and are valuable but it is also important that we know the board really has student achievement and success for kids on their minds too.”

The school board will hold their annual general meeting on Monday evening at 7 p.m. at W.J. Berezowsky School. It is open to the public.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Canadian School Board Association, Saskatchewan School Board Association First Nations Paul Martin Foundation Chamber of Commerce Chamber in Prince Albert Junior Achievement Emergency Services Mary High School W.J. Berezowsky School

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Ontario, Ottawa Regina Saskatoon Marquis Road

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