Let’s talk COVID. I know that it feels like that’s all we have been talking about for the past year, but as someone who is hoping to get your vote in October, we need to talk about what happens when this third wave (hopefully!) subsides, vaccines are distributed, and we begin the process of re-building. What is that going to look like for our students?
For upwards of 20% of Edmonton students, come September, they will be seeing the inside of a classroom for the first time in 16 months. Academically speaking, it is inevitable that there will be significant discrepancies and likely, deficiencies, in their learning. Teachers were thrust into unfamiliar territory by rapidly converting their in-person learning strategies into those that were possible to deliver online, with whatever resources they had available to them. Students were no longer in the learning environment that they had grown accustomed to, and also had to “make-do” with whatever technologies and resources were available to them. Parents were now fulfilling the role of school teacher, in addition to working their own jobs from home or perhaps managing the stress of having lost their job. How do we ensure that our students are not held back in their academic progression because of these circumstances that were outside of their control?
From a social development perspective, students who have been isolated for long periods of time have experienced an interruption in a vital part of their growth- peer relationships. In the August, 2020 digital edition of The Lancet, the authors write that in adolescents in particular, the shift toward peer relationships “facilitates young people’s development into independent adults, enabling them to foster a more complete sense of social self-identity, at the same time as building stronger affiliations with their peer group. Simultaneously, cognitive abilities such as self-referential processing, executive control, and mentalising, improve across adolescence, enabling young people to better understand other people’s mind and take others’ perspectives.” (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30186-3/fulltext)
How are we going to equip our teachers and support staff with the tools they need to create space for this development to occur?
Then of course, there is the collective trauma that we have ALL come face to face with. As a society, we have been grappling with loss of every kind imaginable since March 2020. There will be hundreds of students and teachers who will be heading into the school year of 2021-2022 having lost someone they loved from COVID. There will be hundreds of students and teachers who have HAD COVID and may still be suffering long term effects. There will be dozens of students who witnessed their parents and family members go to work on the front line and experienced anxiety and worry about their safety. There will be dozens of students who suffered further abuse, hunger, and torment because they were unable to take refuge in school. What are we going to do to ensure that the proper supports are in place for our teachers and students?
Ultimately, I alone, do not have the answers to these problems. What I do know is that they are just a few of the challenges that our students and teachers/support staff will be facing and they need elected officials who will acknowledge these challenges and work with every ounce of their energy to meet these challenges directly. Together. If it means organizing and funding outdoor classes in the summer to help close the gap in academics, or adding additional funding for grief councillors and mental health professionals in schools, or working toward adding more extra- curricular groups and events that create opportunity for further social development.. I am ready to listen to the students and teachers of Edmonton, and in particular, those in Ward F. Lead the the way in your healing. I am ready to lend my voice to amplify yours.