Thursday March 4, 2021 | LANGFORD, BC
Education Insights by Mary P Brooke, editor | Island Social Trends
Long meetings sometimes allow things to fly under the radar. But buried deep into a long Resources Committee meeting, the SD62 school community heard a teacher representative call for more attention to what works and what is needed when it comes to addressing the mental health and wellness needs of students.
SD62 is the Sooke School District which includes schools located in Langford, Colwood and Sooke on the west shore of south Vancouver Island. The K-12 public education curriculum is delivered by SD62 to families in Langford, Colwood, Sooke, Highlands, Metchosin, East Sooke, west of Sooke to Port Renfrew, and parts of View Royal. It’s one of the fastest growing school districts in BC, looking at a student population of over 11,100 by Fall 2021.
No community is fully resilient to the social-emotional impacts of COVID-19 but math teacher Ed Berlando says there is going to be a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to deal with among students, teachers and support staff as the pandemic continues and as the community emerges to what he described as ‘not the new normal’. Everyone will have been impacted, says the long-time teacher (28 years) who presently teaches at the Edward Milne Community School (high school) in Sooke.
Berlando sits on the Resources Committee as the rep for the Sooke Teachers Association (STA). STA president is Jennifer Anderson who has been asked by Island Social Trends for a comment on this issue.
Berlando said there were 16 incidents of violence reported by SD62 teachers in January. He sees a need for more teacher counsellors in schools for more ‘face to face time’ with students. “Get more kids in front of counsellors,” he told the small committee meeting of two trustees, top administrative staffers, and a few stakeholder reps (virtual audience count unknown).
Resources Committee chair Trustee Bob Beckett (a first-term trustee who is also vice-chair of the full board) responded, in part, that teachers should reach out for counselling as well.
Board chair is Ravi Parmar; he was not present at last night’s meeting, and neither was committee member Trustee Margot Swinburnson (a retired nurse who has usually been the most vocal about mental health issues around the board table over the past few years but generally within a mainstream health authority context). Trustee Wendy Hobbs attended last night’s meeting remotely.
Resources Committee meetings (generally held monthly during the academic year) deal with the financial management aspects of things about delivering education in SD62 schools. Currently the 2021-2022 budget is under detailed development led by Secretary-Treasurer Harold Cull who is pushing hard for a three-year view to the budget process as a way of lining up with the school district’s strategic plan timeline.
A full range of topics comes into play in these meetings, as there is a financial component to nearly everything in a large school system. Heading into fall 2021, SD62 expects (according to Associate Superintendent Paul Block who has been immersed in these numbers for about five years in support of data needed for capital expansion) to see over 11,111 students in their 27 schools.
By Fall 2022 there will be 29 schools in SD62 — a new elementary and new middle school combo is set to open in the Westhills area. Last night the committee heard a construction update, and last week the principals of those two new schools were announced (Karen DeCicco will take the helm of the 500-seat Pexsisen Elementary School and veteran SD62 employee, Darren Russell, will lead the 700-seat Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School).
During the online meeting (held using MS Teams), SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson welcomed Berlando’s comments about mental health considerations, given that they come from on-the-ground front line experience in the teaching environment. “As staff interface with student trauma, we need to build the skill set of staff to support our students,” said Stinson toward the end of the 1.75-hour meeting.
For the last few years the SD62 board has often included mention of mental health and wellness in various aspects of discussion. And while there has been some tinkering with the counselling line item in the budget, mostly the efforts have been about awareness and perhaps the occasional seminar and the odd program here and there. Berlando said it’s time to be creative and develop or find programs that make a real difference.
The pressures of dealing with the ongoing COVID health emergency have brought these mental wellness concerns more into the light in schools, as has been the case with many aspects of society and the economy that have been laid bare by the disruptive socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.
===== About the writer:
Island Social Trends editor Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Cert PR, has covered the news of SD62 at the board level since 2014. Her now-grown children attended schools in SD61, SD62 and SD79.