At the June 8 Public Board Meeting, Chair Val Windsor delivered the following end of academic year message.
As you know, this is our final Public Board Meeting of the 2020/2021 school year, and as is customary, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the events of the past year. But first, I would like to start by giving a statement on behalf of the Delta Board of Education:
Every Child Matters. Not just every child in the Delta School District. But every child in Canada. And in particular, every one of the thousands of children who suffered as a result of the Indian Residential School System.
The recent discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School has caused huge shock and immense sadness across the country, but especially for those of us involved in education. I know it has weighed heavily on my heart. On behalf of the Delta Board of Education, our thoughts go out to the families impacted by the terrible legacy of the residential school system.
This shameful part of Canada’s history is inexcusable. As a district, we renew our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation journey, and will continue this important work towards healing and reconciliation with our local Indigenous communities.
Our thoughts are also with those impacted by the horrendous attack on a Muslim Canadian family in London, Ontario a few days ago.
For the last several years, the district’s Indigenous Education Department has been focused on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and has created valuable resources including lesson plans and videos for school staff to share learnings.
Back in February, Diane Jubinville shared information on some of the initiatives designed by her team to engage staff and students in Indigenous learning in the 2020/2021 school year, including Rock Your Mocs and The Giving Tree Project, both of which were embraced wholeheartedly by our schools. One upside of the pandemic is that it has enabled the Indigenous Education department to reach more students than ever before. Zoom sessions with Nathan Wilson, Indigenous Cultural Enhancement Facilitator, have been highly anticipated and extremely popular.
As Diane mentioned earlier, June is National Indigenous History Month, and National Indigenous Peoples Day falls on June 21. Throughout this month, her team are supporting staff and students in honouring and celebrating the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nation, Metis and Inuit people. It goes without saying that this is crucial and important learning.
The awful treatment of Indigenous peoples that we have been reminded about recently is grounded in racism. This time last year, the brutal murder of George Floyd also brought into focus sharply the racism that sadly still exists in our society. Since last summer, the district has forged ahead with its anti racism work, forming an Anti Racism Committee, establishing an Anti Racism website containing valuable resources for anyone looking to learn more. If you haven’t already visited the website, I encourage you to do so. You can find it at www.deltalearns.ca/antiracism.
In April, the District was awarded a grant of $10,000 to support an anti racism initiative that will leverage a student-initiated study that is taking place at Sands Secondary currently. Students from Sands will help lead action teams in every high school to provide voice and action against racism in their schools. One of the key deliverables will be an educational video to help increase community understanding related to systemic racism. This is so important if we are to create a future that is equitable, inclusive and accepting of all people regardless of their colour. All members of our school communities must feel safe, valued and respected.
Speaking of safety, the main focus of the 2020/2021 school year has been maintaining a healthy and safe environment for all students, families and staff. We have had to navigate a wide range of health and safety guidelines and protocols, many of which changed several times over the year, often at short notice. Physical distancing, hand washing, following directional signage, completing health checks, wearing masks, endless Zoom meetings – I could go on and on! I would like to take this opportunity to thank our staff, students and families for adapting to the constant changes and respecting the guidelines in order to keep our community safe. Pandemic fatigue is real! But I think the ongoing stress and challenges of the pandemic has continued to highlight just how kind, strong and committed we all are to working together for the benefit of our larger community. Perhaps every cloud (or in this case pandemic) does indeed have a silver lining.
I am so proud of our staff for providing in-class instruction throughout the entire 2020/2021 school year. Unfortunately, not all provinces were able to keep their schools open. Already, survey data has given an early indication of the detrimental impacts of school closures – impaired learning, decreased social connection and stress for families.
Unfortunately, I think we will come to learn even more about the true cost of the pandemic to people’s wellbeing. Over the past nine months, knowing the toll the pandemic was taking on families’ mental health, the district’s Learning Services – Inclusive Learning Department has offered numerous free online sessions to families on a variety of topics including mental and emotional wellness, managing stress, resiliency and navigating adolescence. More than 1,000 parents have been involved in these sessions, and we hope that they felt better able to support their children as a result.
Sadly, it seems the pandemic has been a factor in the alarming increase in overdose deaths in the lower mainland. Recently, the School District partnered with the City of Delta and Delta Police Department to develop the End the Stigma campaign which uses various channels such as social media and bus shelter advertising to share the message that substance use is a reality in our communities, neighbourhoods and families. The aim is to help end the stigma around substance use and make it easier for people to ask for help.
On a much more positive note, as you may have heard, the district is in the throes of developing its vision for the next nine years. From April until the end of June, we are encouraging staff, students, families and community partners to participate in the visioning process through Zoom events, and online surveys and vision boards. Over the summer, the data from this research will be analyzed and we anticipate launching Vision 2030 in the fall.
To our 2021 graduates, although graduation may look different from what you had anticipated, I hope you find special ways to celebrate your accomplishments safely with those who love you and who have supported you on your journey through high school. We are proud of you and hope you are proud of yourselves. Your resiliency over the past couple of years is impressive. Wherever you are headed next, have faith in how far you can go and please accept our very best wishes for a happy, healthy and fulfilling future! Congratulations graduates of 2021!
In closing, I would like to thank all of our students, parents, staff and community partners for their hard work, dedication and commitment as we bid farewell to yet another extremely unconventional school year.
I think it’s safe to say we are all really hoping for, and looking forward to, a return to normal operations in the fall. Wishing everyone a restful, safe and enjoyable summer.