Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Susan Semonick On Schools - Feb 20, 2008 - Parent Congress

PARENT CONGRESS was it what most would think a congress to be?

I heard from someone who attended the Second Annual Parent Congress hosted by the Minister of Education at the end of January. I asked if I could share information given with my readers and was given permission to share parts of it. Here are some excerpts.

When they inquired as to whether an agenda would be provided in advance, they were informed that it would be available at the Congress. Knowing the Ministry, they had expected nothing less than a tightly scripted agenda for the day. Most of my guesses were correct as to what key topics they were keen on having on the agenda, and none were a surprise. Nor was it a surprise that partner group representatives were in attendance, as were many DPAC chairs and politically active parents. It felt like the “regular parents” were few and far between. The Ministry said 115 parents were invited; there were a few empty seats. There was however, a good cross-section of the province in attendance and a fair representation from the various special groups. The First Nations, Francophone, Special Needs (especially a lot of parents of children with autism) were all represented.

The day focussed on four key topics and an introduction of the new Parent Information Network - a joint venture by the MoE and the Virtual School Society.

The keynote was delivered by Silken Laumann who spoke about the power of play and introduced Silken’s Active Kids Movement that is supported and funded through ActNowBC and 2010 Legacies Now Society.

PALS Program (Parents as Literacy Supporters) was presented by co-Founder Fiona Morrison, formerly of SD#35 and now with LiteracyNow, and Dr. Jim Anderson from UBC

The Screen Smart Initiative – a program to help parents manage media and the amount of time children spend in front of any screen was presented by a team from SD#19 Revelstoke and the Revelstoke Child Care Society.
Dr. Art Hister’s presentation was on Healthy Children and the epidemic of obesity and the attendant health issues. Many scary statistics were presented.

There were opportunities to ask the speakers (not the Minister) questions about their presentation. The Minister did however, make comments about the Ministry’s position whenever she felt it was required.

It was clear that the Ministry had a message to deliver. Woven into the information and inspiration/motivation that the speakers shared was the “we can’t say it enough” message that parents and the community had to work on these issues as well, in order for the Ministry, our students, or both (depending upon how cynical you are) to be successful. Obviously, this is a huge economic issue as the cost of health care continues to rise and our population gets older. Most of the parents already understood – no big sell job needed.

It is disappointing that the amount of dialogue about “where the rubber hits the road’ kind of concerns was almost non-existent except for outside of the script, during breakfast, lunch and nutrition breaks. Parents did however manage to get their points across to the Minister as they asked long extended questions, with even longer preambles and explanations, of the speakers.

The good news for me is that I did get to voice the three concerns that I had intended to deliver to the Minister regarding Daily Physical Activity and the Graduation program.

That the Ministry has yet to provide any information regarding whether they will provide an exception for current Grade 11 students in the Grad Transitions program who made plans based on the existing requirements and have completed their 80 hours. Changing the requirements is not fair nor is it respectful.

That the 30 minute a day requirement at the grades 8 & 9 level be changed to 150 minutes a week to deal with school timetabling issues.
That for at-risk students (among others) who struggle to graduate, the finish line just got that much farther.

I would prefer that the DPA requirement be eliminated for the graduation program. It is important to note that there is no teaching involved for students in the grad program. It is strictly bookkeeping. Is this a good use of teacher and/or parent time? Do we want students who have no Dogwood certificate and therefore have limited post secondary options, because they failed to be physically active? Does the Ministry want to see graduation and completion rates decline? Remember, there is no curricula involved – no teaching, just bookkeeping.

The Ministry has acknowledged that this is a long-term endeavour to get students to eat healthy and be active. My question would be then, why are they pushing so hard. Presumably, if everything they intend to do with the program at the elementary level is successful, then by the time those students reach the grad program, the message has been learned. There will never be 100% acceptance; just look at the no-smoking, seat-belt, and child car seat campaigns. The Minister did say that they were working on the specifics right now and I did see her assistant taking notes as I spoke. I hope they will give it due consideration. I also hope that the parents who were there also noted the concerns and took them back to their respective groups. Perhaps some of them will even contact their MLAs and the Minister if they have similar concerns. I can only do my part and hope for the best.

Overall, it was more or less what I had expected. The food was great and I had the opportunity to see familiar faces from across the province and meet new parents as well. Was it prudent use of education dollars – you decide? I would expect there would be the cost of speakers; travel and perhaps accommodations for partner group reps and Ministry staff; Ministry staff time to organize the congress; travel and accommodation for many of the parent delegates; and lastly, the cost of the congress itself (facility rental, delegate packages, meals, etc.) I had decided to transit instead of driving in or availing myself of the overnight hotel room that the Ministry was providing. After all, it is taxpayers’ money since the Ministry was reimbursing participants. My expense claim was less than $12.00.

An interesting diary of the day is posted at this Vancouver Blog Site:

My notations:

I know that Langley DPAC was contacted with a request for 3-5 minutes on their January agenda in order to inform other parents in the district about this concern regarding DPA and the Grad program. Unfortunately, they declined the request, preferring to wait until a school district staff member could be ready with some answers at the end of March. In my opinion, this is a short sighted view of things. Timing is critical. As with the Ministry’s grad portfolio initiative, parents can effect change to Ministry plans so that school districts may not have to deal with implementing onerous, under-developed Ministry ideas, however well intended.

I hear that other partner groups and stakeholders have been more receptive to these concerns and have listened. Most have committed to sharing them with their colleagues. Too bad many Langley parents will only be provided with district’s answers to a situation that may not need to occur had they had the opportunity to let the Ministry know how they feel about it. I encourage all parents to write to their MLAs and the Minister of Education if you have concerns about the additional hoops that your child will have to go through to graduate. It likely will not be of concern for many students, However, as a community, we need to concern ourselves with the needs of ALL students, especially those students who do not have someone to advocate for them. As mentioned, for those students who are working hard but struggling to graduate, this just moved the finish line further away. Is it worth denying a Dogwood and therefore better future opportunities? I leave that for the public to decide.

Respectfully submitted by

Susan Semonick

No comments:

Post a Comment