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Catholic education plan focuses on mental health support

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools trustees recently approved 2021-23 plan
MVT Holy Trinity 1st Day School-1
Students leave the bus Aug. 31 for their first day of the 2020-21 school year at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Olds. File photo/MVP Staff Doug Collie/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL — Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools (RDCRS) trustees have approved the 2021-23 educational plan, which includes a focus on supporting the mental health of students and staff during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Made up of six overall goals, the plan includes strategies to achieve those objectives as well as provisions to measure short- and long-term success.

One of the goals as described in the plan is to “deepen the understanding and implementation of professional practice standards with a focus on optimum student learning.”

Strategies to achieve that goal include “building an awareness of mental wellness through trauma-informed practice, mental health literacy and a responsive classroom environment” as well as developing, promoting and overseeing the “application of excellent professional practices consistent with the teaching, leadership and superintend quality standards.”

Ryan Sawula, division principal with RDCRS, led the team that put together the plan.

“One key priority is we recognize mental health supports for students and staff,” Sawula told The Albertan. “That is a key piece and a focus area moving forward, coming out of the pandemic and continuing to ensure that students and staff have mental health supports.”

Stakeholder engagement involved community members providing valuable input regarding the need for mental health support, he said.

“What certainly came through loud and clear was to continue to explore mental health and socialization supports for students and staff,” he said. “We are continuing to address those mental health concerns as a result of the pandemic.”

Another goal identified in the plan is to provide “enhanced education through communication, engagement and partnership.”

Strategies there include to “continue to create opportunity and pathways for staff development within the division.”

That objective calls for an increase in the number of opportunities for students to enrol in dual credit programming by 30 per cent and an increase in the number of post secondary partnerships providing programming for learners by 10 per cent.

“We are looking to expand those opportunities and those partnerships,” he said. “We have been working a lot with post secondary institutions. They have been really responsive in looking for those partnerships and new opportunities.”

Another goal is to “create an inclusive environment designed to achieve students’ fullest potential through knowing, understanding and responding to all learners.”

Strategies there include “supporting students' diverse needs through responsive and flexible programming, focusing on high impact teaching strategies” as well as “understanding and implementing essential outcomes and learning progressions.”

Sawula said, “We recognize that with the pandemic, we need to determine where students are at and to address any learning needs. That’s a big priority for us coming out of the pandemic.”

Another goal outlined in the plan is to “Enrich our division Catholicity by focusing on the two chosen characteristics of Catholic identity: community and tradition.”

Strategies there include providing “faith foundation opportunities for students and staff that further their personal and communal growth as participants in a Catholic educational community.”

Another goal is “in collaboration with our Indigenous communities, build upon foundational knowledge of First Nations, Métis and Inuit teachings to benefit all students and build capacity of staff.”

Strategies there include ensuring that all teachers have “acquired skills to meet and exceed the foundational knowledge of First Nations, Métis and Inuit competency as outlined in the Alberta Education professional practice standards.”

Another goal is “fostering a culture where diversity is celebrated, and cultural distinctiveness is honoured promoting intercultural understanding.”

Strategies there include to “develop, collaborate, build awareness and implement cultural competency training with all stakeholders of RDCRS” as well as building “awareness of appreciating cultural differences and their connection to mental health, optimal student learning and community membership.”

There are about 10,000 students in RDCRS, including in Olds and Innisfail.

Dan Singleton

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