Local school divisions discuss mental health during Minister of Education’s visit

Daily Herald File Photo A group of 21 Japanese students will be visiting Ecole St. Mary High School in March and host families are needed.

Minister of Education Dustin Duncan was in Prince Albert on Monday and met with both the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division and Prince Albert Catholic School Division to discuss education in the city and surrounding area.

Duncan met and toured two schools, John Diefenbaker Public School and Ecole St. Mary High School, before meeting with directors of education and school board chairs.

“I thought was a fantastic visit,” Sask. Rivers education director Robert Bratvold said. “We had a great experience in John Diefenbaker with Principal Roy Feschuk. We had a great tour and got to see the Cree Language program that we have got running there. The Minister was impressed by all of the planning and activities going on. We spent some time exploring the diversity of the school. It was really, really good.”

Prince Albert Catholic School Division director of education Lorel Trumier agreed that the visit was positive.

“We had a great meeting with Minister Dustin Duncan, (we were) very appreciative that he took the time to come and hear us and try to understand some of our successes and challenges,” she said. “We took him to Ecole St. Mary High School as one of his visits in the city because it emphasized the journey that our children are on from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“We are looking at the entire journey for students, not just at the high school. We talked about some of the successes and some of the challenges we have, (and) the long term relationship that we have with our students and our families that’s so critical.”

There was also a meeting with board chairs Barry Hollick and Suzanne Stubbs and both directors where they could further discuss issues in education.

“It’s such a great opportunity to be collaborative so PA Catholic and Sask Rivers Public working together,” Bratvold said. “Our board chair, vice chair and director met with their director and their chair. Their vice chair wasn’t able to make the meeting. We had great conversation with Minister Duncan and his chief of staff and also MLA Alana Ross was there too.”

The Saskatchewan Rivers board met with local MLAs last week, but Ross also took part in the meeting with Duncan.

“We had actually met with our group of MLAs last week and she was there, but it was great. She was able to get into some more detail with the Minister around some things so it was really great,” Bratvold said.

Topics discussed at the meeting included mental health and wellbeing, and how to support them through the current funding infrastructure.

“It was really good to be able to talk to the Minister about supporting vulnerable students, address student mental health and wellbeing needs and helping the Minister see the need to make sure that the funding distribution formula aligns with the needs based approach that’s mandated by the Ministry,” Bratvold said.

Trumier explained that the hope they had for the visit was that they could share successes and challenges of the division.

“Our school division like other school divisions across this province or across this country are experiencing challenges of mental health and needing to support our children and I think that’s really important that we advocate for our families and our children and our community,” she said.

Trumier said that even with the division meeting and exceeding graduation rates, they still need support for students to reach that goal.

“One of the processes is to support them with their mental health and wellbeing and we were asking for, of course, funding to support that as we work through our request to the minister to consider that COVID has brought the onset of some of these challenges not being met,” Trumier said.

One challenge was redeployment of educational resources during the pandemic which created adjustments in how education is delivered.

“I know that everyone in our community did the very best they could, but at the same time we need to make sure that we are advocating for that support for our children because it’s an investment,” Trumier said. “It’s an investment in our province when you invest in our children.”

Bratvold explained that the Ministry of Education encourages school divisions take a research and evidence based approach.

“We figure out the needs based on a whole lot of different factors and we always need to make sure that the funding allocation also follows a needs-based approach,” he explained. “There are some challenges in that respect.”

Trumier added that the division will continue to advocate around the funding model as well.

“There were other areas that we would continue to advocate but it’s really around the funding model to support these challenges that are facing us,” she explained. “As the province is setting a new Provincial Education Plan this needs to be in their view. It needs to be within their lenses for decision making as we move forward for the next seven years.”

Bratvold added that the Ministry has the same goals as the division.

“It’s an obvious thing that the Ministry is seeking what is best for kids. It is just finding the right way to distribute those funds,” he said.

Trumier was glad that the conversations took place with the Minister.

“We were very fortunate that our Minister came, (and) we were very grateful for the time he spent. He listened to us. He asked good questions. The conversation was rich and we are now hoping that those things can impact those decisions toward a new budget for the next year and it informs some of their decision making,” she said.

In a statement from the Ministry of Education, they emphasised the partnership.

“The Minister of Education enjoyed hearing directly from students, teachers and school staff during his tour of two Prince Albert schools within the Prince Albert Catholic and Saskatchewan Rivers School Divisions. The Minister looks forward to continuing to work in partnership with school divisions and teachers to provide high quality education to all students in the province,” the statement reads.