Pandemic challenges and partnerships highlights in Sask Rivers

The Sask Rivers Education Centre/ Daily Herald File Photo

The year 2021 in the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it brought. Director of education Robert Bratvold highlighted the work of staff and families along with new partnerships as part of looking back on 2021.

“It does go quick and I guess you could say time flies when you are having fun. And as challenging as the work has been in schools, we still have lots of excitement and fun working with kids and families so that’s a big part of it,” Bratvold said.

Bratvold especially saluted the works of staff in the challenging year.

“The thing that really sticks in mind though and I think it’s a phrase that’s on my mind but I think it’s incomprehensibly amazing work that our teachers and leaders in schools have been doing. Staying connected with families, making learning meaningful and as fun as it can be,” he said.

“I am very intentional about that term incomprehensibly amazing because it’s hard to imagine what’s that like unless you are in there doing that and it’s amazing work that they are doing.”

The year began with both the Saskatchewan Rivers and Prince Albert Catholic School Divisions delaying returning to in person learning in January because of the pandemic which he described as a challenge.

“And then from there to near the end of the year we had kids going out of their classroom, sending them home for isolation for periods of 10 to 14 days, that was a challenge.”

“We also didn’t have those extracurricular programs last year at all, thankfully we were able to offer those again starting this September so that has been really good,” he added.

When the enrolment report for the division for 2021-2022 was finalized there were 8,969 students enrolled. That’s an increase of 559 students. Again Bratvold credited staff across the division for their work staying connected with students who returned after leaving because of COVID-19 during the 2020-2021 school year.

“ So they did that really hard work all last year and into the winter and spring 2021. And then when September rolled around many of those families found their way back into our schools and that’s an exciting piece. To stay connected and have those kids come back and reconnect with their peers in meaningful way,” Bratvold said.

“That has helped with our schools. I mean schools are at their best when they are full of kids and teachers learning and we saw that in September this year and it’s great,” he added.

Bratvold explained that the division has benefitted from the development of a great relationship with local public health led by Dr. Khami Chokani and others because of the pandemic.

We were connected a little bit but now every week we have a meeting and it’s sometimes more than that. So you build those relationships, you grow and you sustain them even when there is challenges like sometimes the mission of health doesn’t necessarily align with the mission of an education organization and so you try and find the best ways that you can serve the needs of the public together,” Bratvold said.

He explained that teachers also did amazing work when they had to learn on their own how to teach remotely. Bratvold said that they learned how to deal with teaching some students remotely for periods of 10 days and longer.

“Teachers did amazing work on their own and we helped to support them,” he said.

He also highlighted how schools across the division learned to use social media to tell their stories using things

“We had some folks like Principal Jeff Court at Carlton took a lead in this and we has Precision Marketing, a local marketing business that supported us,” he said.

A recent example comes from Carlton itself who celebrated their music program with Carlton Celebrates Christmas earlier in December.

“Again it seems a little bit self-serving but when I look back on the year that was meaningful piece supporting both that remote learning and telling our stories through social media and staying connected,” Bratvold said.

As well he pointed to how each high school found a way to celebrate their graduations in 2021 after having a different situation in 2020.

“That was just amazing work for those high schools, those parent committees supporting graduation and staff doing things, just finding a way to make special things continue to be special in different ways,” Bratvold said.

New programs in division including Cree Language at John Diefenbaker a highlight

Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year a Cree Language Kindergarten program was launched at John Diefenbaker School in Prince Albert. The program is expanding in the next school year and the success of that program is another success from the past year

“With the Cree Language program their teacher and Elder and Knowledge Keeper and support staff in that program and the parents there at JD, just amazing work to grow that Cree Language program in a time where there is a pandemic,” Bratvold said. The program will grow to include pre-Kindergarten and possibly Grade 2, starting in the 2022-23 school year.

The program currently serves students in Kindergarten and Grade 1.

“We don’t have all of the details worked out but we are going to grow into both the Pre-K portion and into Grade 2 and we have just kind of had those initial discussions now but we have made that commitment to grow. And that has been during the pandemic so (that is ) meeting the needs of the community,” Bratvold said.

In 2020-21, Diefenbaker School had 15 students enrolled in the program. That expanded to 36 this school year, according to the division’s enrolment update. Those numbers are accurate as of Sept. 30.

“It’s taking action on reconciliation and as I have often said it is important to acknowledge, it is important to recognize, it is important to conceive and understand the truth. But it is also important to take action and to do something and it helps,” Bratvold said.

He explained that the program itself has been fantastic for students, staff and families at John Diefenbaker.

Along similar lines over the past year the division has developed a great relationship with Métis Nation of Saskatchewan (MN–S) and the local Métis community and Bratvold is thankful for that.

The relationship began to burgeon when MN-S donated 400 Chromebooks to the division in April, 2020

“We just had a really great response from our students and from our schools for that generous piece.

A second part of this relationship has been around Michif language and culture programs. So that is something we announced last year that we have rolled out in two more schools, St. Louis has got strong Metis community and heritage in their community and really appreciative of that language and culture program out there. And Queen Mary as well, we have got a strong support for that,” Bratvold said.

“That relationship with Metis Nation-Saskatchewan and the Metis community locally that has been really appreciated by the division. That is a piece that really happened in the last year. Not entirely, but it really came to be recognized last year, I think,” he explained.

As well the Global Sport Academy based at Carlton Comprehensive High School expanded to include Grade 7 and 8 beginning next school year.

The multi-sport program currently has a hockey focus with national calibre coaches, and plans are underway to bring that same passion as the program expands into golf and programming for Grade 7 and 8 students for the 2021-2022 school year.

“We had the high school sport academy previously right and did lots of work previously to that but this year and starting last spring putting the plan into place and support from Global Sports in the community, offering a Grade 7 and 8 program,” Bratvold said.

The students in the Grade 7 and 8 programs will stay at a home elementary school with Carlton acting as hub with transportation arrangements for those students.

“That is a big deal and it has been well supported even during the pandemic and those challenges of operations. Teachers, students, staff and families and the folks at Global Sport are really finding a pathway to make that happen in a great way,” Bratvold said. “When I look back that was another one of those big pieces that I recognize.”

He also said that teachers learning by themselves how to teach remotely should also be highlighted.

“Teachers did amazing work on their own and we helped to support them,” he said.