This is what the Tour de Mont Blanc looks like – want to join us?
a small postscript, this post came out yesterday and the first donation – anonymous – for $100 came in today – a great start!
This is what the Tour de Mont Blanc looks like – want to join us?
a small postscript, this post came out yesterday and the first donation – anonymous – for $100 came in today – a great start!
It is in the details where things really matter in education. Last week the Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that the province was taking a ‘pause’ in the awarding of Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grants. The news got some attention on social media, but do people really understand the impact of this move on parents?
Doug Ford’s government has no doubt found more ‘efficiencies’ by cutting a few million from the education budget, but he has done this on the backs of low-income parents across the province. This is a pretty simple grab by a callous and cynical government who clearly understands that few will really protest the loss of the grants.
In the affluent school communities, the workshops funded through PRO Grants (see a partial list below) will be made up through fundraising in the community. This is one of the unseen inequities in Ontario’s schools. Communities that have the money to support their schools generally have a healthy account that parents can put to use in a whole variety of ways including funding the programs previously supported through the PRO Grant.
In poorer communities, this financial padding is simply not available. PRO Grants allow parents to make a significant impact on the life of the school and in many cases, this was the only money they have during the year to hold significant events for the parent community.
This is the message we used to get from the Ministry of Education. It was positive, empowering and respectful.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2017-18 Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grants!
We invite your school council to apply for a 2017-18 Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grant. We know that good schools become great schools when parents are involved in their children`s learning and well-being. PRO Grants for School Councils support projects that help parents identify barriers to parent engagement in their own community and develop local strategies to address these barriers in support of student achievement and well-being.
PRO Grants are available to school councils for a maximum of $1,000.
School councils of publicly funded schools may develop applications individually, in partnership with other school councils, or with other parent or community groups. When partnering with another school council, each school council is responsible for submitting its own application.
I left the date – 2017, this was the last time I had the chance to work with our Parent Council to apply for the PRO Grant. In these years, the Ministry went even farther to make sure money reached low-income parent communities. As long as the ministry received an application, schools like ours were guaranteed to receive the funds they applied for. This was so important, it allowed us to plan events with the certainty that the funds we needed would be granted. This gave low-income schools an advantage. We didn’t have many so it was really good to get some recognition of the disadvantages faced by many families in Ontario.
It is really important for governments to ensure that all parents have a voice and that all parents are empowered. In poorer communities, the parent community has few tools to ensure that they have an impact. We won’t hear from them about the loss of the PRO Grant and this makes it even more important that we talk about the injustice in this most recent provincial action.
The current government is not ‘respecting the taxpayers’ by stopping these grants, they are taking something important from parents who want to be involved in their schools. They are making it harder to engage the parent community in our schools.
If the minister truly cares about the parent community in Ontario she will make a quick reversal of this ill-considered decision.
A good public system needs effective participation by all parents, this action only weakens this system.
Cross-country Checkup is a good way to measure what issues are of interest to Canadians every week. This CBC show has been on for many years and it has always been a good barometer of public opinion. This week, the topic is violence in the schools and the danger staff face on a regular basis.
This became a public issue last week when an Ottawa teacher went public with a violent incident that ended his teaching career.
One issue that is being brought up this afternoon is the very dangerous situation educational assistants (EAs) find themselves every day. While I don’t know many teachers who have been injured on the job, I regularly witnessed EAs being injured. They were also verbally abused by students and parents and were seldom able to seek any recourse for what happened to them.
Is this a systemic problem? Why are we hearing so much about this now that a floodgate has been opened?
I think it comes down to an overemphasis on individual rights over collective rights. When I suspended students, it was to protect the collective. The individual had lost the right to be part of the school community, therefore they were suspended. I used this line with parents and it (of course) was not appreciated. However, suspension, especially starting in grade 7 was an effective tool and I hope high school vice principals are still able to use it. Our job was to protect staff and students.
On the other hand, you could say that ejecting a student doesn’t solve anything. Suspension is a necessary sanction, but what is happening that leads to behaviours that lead to a suspension?
Education is an incredibly labour-intensive field. Typically, when governments want to save money on education there is only one way to do this, staff gets cut or the necessary staff are not hired.
From my perspective as an administrator, the best way to assist children, especially those with emotional or mental health issues is to have enough staff in the building to care for these students. This means more EAs, more social workers, and more in-school therapists.
The conversation continued long after the show and it included tweets like this:
Obviously, we didn’t reach any conclusions, but it is an important discussion.
I let this post sit for a few days. It is a sad topic and it is really hard to find the positives. Then last night, I attended the information meeting for a new fundraising program we are starting – Christie Lake Climb for Kids! I have written about this before on this blog. It’s an exciting opportunity and I hope we get 16 participants for this first expedition.
What was really refreshing for me last night was the presentation on Christie Lake Kids. This program offers a wide variety of recreational services for low-income kids. They run a terrific summer camp along with programming throughout the year including cooking classes, a fully funded hockey team and a whole variety of after-school programs in some of the most challenging neighbourhoods here in Ottawa.
I think I needed to be reminded that while we have some really challenging problems in our schools, there are some really forward-thinking organizations like Christie Lake that are offering solutions.
More suspensions and more blame will not ease the problems of violence in our schools. Progressive recreational programming like Christie Lake will offer solutions that at least will address some of the challenges we are facing in our schools.
It has been an interesting week. Lots of discussion on how we are facing a crisis in our schools and one really positive way to find a solution that really helps kids.
For my part, I want to focus on some progressive solutions. I hope others do too!
I really enjoy working with the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. They are open to all sorts of new ideas and are always looking for opportunities to deepen the learning experience of their students.
This year, we are going to offer a unique volunteer opportunity for teacher candidates who will be completing their second year at the Faculty of Education.
All students have to complete a three-week volunteer placement before they finish their program. It is up to them to decide what they will do for their placement and students are offered a variety of opportunities to consider at the beginning of their second year.
This year we are offering students a placement in El Salvador where they will be able to learn something about what it is like to work as an educator in the Global South. We have done these kinds of trips in the past for teachers, but what a wonderful opportunity to take part in a trip like this as part of the formative teacher education experience.
We can learn a great deal by talking to teachers in other countries. While the circumstances of teachers in El Salvador can be drastically different from what teachers experience in Canada, there are remarkable similarities as well. Teachers in both countries have to surmount the challenges of working in low-income areas and we all aspire to offer a holistic education for our students to prepare them for the world they will live in.
Having an opportunity to talk with teachers and students from the Global South can add a rich element to the teacher training we provide our teacher candidates with. Learning what it is like to live and struggle in a poor Southern country can add valuable life experience for teacher candidates preparing for a very challenging career.
We will be working with CIS – Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (Center for Exchange and Solidarity) in El Salvador.
CIS aims to strengthen people-to-people solidarity and contribute to the construction of a new El Salvador. They have a great deal of experience working with delegations from the United States and Canada. They have put together a program that will be presented to students in September. Here are some of the highlights:
For the sake of brevity, I have only included some of the objectives and activities that could be included as part of the three-week program.
This is a very rich and varied schedule and I know that teacher candidates taking part in this trip will learn lots.
Now it is really up to the students to decide if they will make this their volunteer option for 2018. I hope some of them do, it promises to be a rich learning experience.
A few days ago, I was part of a presentation in front of the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation. We were talking about the work that we had done to raise money for a community organization called Rec Link by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. We talked about the importance of developing community assets to assist schools in high poverty areas. Rec-LINK was one of these important community assets that continue to be a great help at my last school.
One board member asked if it was normal for principals to develop strong links with community agencies that make the lives of families in the community richer. I had to say that, no this is not common. I do know some great principals who have linked their school to community agencies, but unfortunately, in my opinion, this is rare.
We are not trained to develop our community assets and this made me reflect on why I had taken this approach at my last school.
I think a great deal has to do with what I have learned from a visionary principal, Nelson Rutilio Cartagena Orellana who administers an elementary school in San Jose las Flores in El Salvador.
Nelson has been principal and a prominent member of the community of San Jose las Flores for many years. Nelson is everywhere in the community. He sits on local and regional anti-mining committees, he is always looking for ways enrich his school community through the development of projects that include an extensive garden and livestock growing project, a breakfast program for all students and a new computer lab for the school. He does much of this through the partnerships he has encouraged with schools and communities in Canada, Spain and I am sure many other countries.
Nelson was actually voted principal by the teachers of his school – can you imagine if we did the same thing here?
Nelson grew up in and around San Jose las Flores and was a young victim of the Sumpul River Massacre. His brother died trying to cross the river and Nelson still wonders what he would be like if he was alive today.
Nelson’s commitment to his school and community is very special. He knows that the children at the school have the potential to prosper in the future – one no longer clouded by war and oppression.
To be an educator in San Jose las Flores means that you are committed to bringing about social change for the children of the community and that you must use every asset you can find to make sure they have a bright future.
While our challenges in Canada are nothing like those in El Salvador, there is an important message to be learned here. It is simply not enough to administer your own school and shut the community out. The problems that exist in disadvantaged communities in Canadian cities are too great to be managed by the school alone. Schools must develop stronger ties to local community agencies like Rec-LINK in order to provide the well-rounded education our children need to prosper.
This may be done at some schools, but if it does it is because of one or two inspired leaders like Nelson – it certainly is not common. The need for better integration between school and community seems to be poorly understood here and this needs to change.
A principal needs to be an activist. If they are not comfortable with that role, probably best to move on to a less challenging school.
Today the Globe and Mail’s great education reporter Caroline Alphonso put out an important article about the dreadful disparity that continues to exist between Ontario’s rich and poor schools.
Schools in affluent neighbourhoods are fundraising almost $50 for every dollar raised by a needier school, new data show, raising concerns about a growing inequity in public education.
If you don’t know this already, you should. Growing up in Kanata or Manotick is not the same as going to school in Caldwell, Russel Heights or Dalhousie. When you administer a school in the richer parts of Ottawa, you have access to thousands of dollars that you can spend almost any way that you want. As the article states, provincial regulations disallow you from building a new school addition, but after that obvious limitation, the sky is the limit.
When I worked in Manotick, the school council briefly debated, then purchased a new school mascot – big enough for a good-sized grade six student to inhabit for school rallies and events. This cost thousands of dollars. At my last school, we had a slightly oversized teddy-bear as our mascot. The Manotick school had three – count them – three good sized play structures, the last one costing over $80,000.00
When the topic came up at school council that as Catholics, we should share some of our cash surplus with poorer schools, the motion was quickly defeated – this money was for our kids.
So why don’t we share our revenue? No idea – you would think that in a Catholic Board this would at least be debated.
Next question – why don’t we help the poorer schools? Oh, we do! The poor schools in Ottawa usually get a one-time grant of around $3000.00 to make up the difference. These special grants are not enough, they usually go to pay for food and clothing for our kids. As Alphonso writes:
The Toronto District School Board, Canada’s largest school district, provides special grants to schools in high-needs communities to help compensate for the fundraising differences. It can’t compete, though, with the hundreds of dollars raised by schools in the city’s richest neighbourhoods.
The disparity problem doesn’t seem to be understood by school officials. Years ago, we were told that a special emphasis on the poor was going to be the mandate of the newest director of our board.
I wonder how that was to be acted out? Was it a matter of highlighting how certain students had made it out of poverty because of an excellent education? Is that really enough? Is that more than simple charity?
If we truly want to redistribute income throughout the schools in Ottawa there is so much that we could be doing. It is simply unfair that some schools have more of everything than others, especially in one of the richest cities in North America.
Don’t be shocked by headlines that write about the growing gap – don’t look to poor countries in the South – look to schools in your own city.
Educating the next generation of teachers is very serious business.
Teacher candidates now spend two years to get their degree, during that time, they are spending more hours in the classroom and more time volunteering – this is wonderful, anything that gets teacher candidates into the classroom should be encouraged.
I think there is another step that we have not yet taken that needs to be considered. Is there a place for students to spend time learning first hand about education in other countries? Do our students need to develop a global perspective as they prepare for a career in our schools?
I would argue that this is really important and we should look for ways to make this happen. A bit biased, I have been bringing students and teachers to different Latin American countries for over 20 years.
I have learned a great deal on these trips. I think the one thing that really sticks with me is that for students in Latin America, education is the way out of a cycle of poverty that in some cases stretches back centuries.
It is also really instructive to speak with the students in the countries we visit. We have done this on many trips and we find that many have the same goals as our own students with the caveat that they are very committed to bringing about positive change for their families and their country.
I think it is really important for educators just starting out to get this perspective. Societies can move out of poverty and the catalyst for this transformation is education.
There are parallels in our own schools. The last school that I worked at was in a poor section of Ottawa. Most of these families are trying to do the same thing as people in Latin America – improve their lives by taking advantage of what the education system offers.
There is so much more to learn, but this is a central point that can influence a career for a lifetime. Education is the key for so many people and teachers can change lives, here and in places we can’t even imagine.
Let’s find a way to open the world up to our future educators.
For many years, I took groups of teachers and students down to the Dominican Republic, Mexico and El Salvador. There is no question that the poverty down there is grinding and the injustice is at times overwhelming.
These trips were very meaningful and I was fully committed to sustaining partnerships with the communities we came into contact with, especially in El Salvador.
Many of you may already see where this is going. What about the poverty in your own backyard? What about the terrible poverty in Canadian indigenous communities?
I never really had a good answer to these questions. I guess I thought that I was doing my part.
Now, I don’t see this as good enough. I have been very fortunate to work in a high poverty section of our city – for me this is a first. I am ashamed to say that I really didn’t know the extent of the poverty in these communities in our own very wealthy city.
We routinely buy boots for our kids. We support children through breakfast and lunch programs, we subsidize a whole variety of lunchtime programs so that our kids get the same educational opportunities as others in better off neighbourhoods. We are constantly applying for grants for recreational equipment, technology and improvements to our yard.
I am not writing this to make us look virtuous, this is simply some of the things you need to do when you live in a poor neighbourhood. Even in a rich city.
Sometimes you have to go cap in hand to well off schools to get help, especially at Christmas. I don’t like doing this, but it is important to help families especially at Christmas.
This year, we were turned down by one of the well off schools in our board. This same school routinely raises thousands of dollars for schools in Southern countries.
Of course, this is their choice, but what has happened to our priorities? How have we lost sight of the poverty of our neighbours?
I have no answers, only to say we still have a long way to go in the journey from charity to true social justice, especially in our own backyard.
As for our school community, we will do just fine.
Today was a good day. We connected two of our community partners together and maybe now we will have a cooking class for our students after school – great!
I am a principal at a wonderful inner-city school in Ottawa, Canada. We have a high immigrant population and many of our families live in poverty. On our own, we don’t have much.
I am not complaining – it’s just that life in a poor school is so incredibly different from other schools, schools that are not much more than 20 minutes away.
Most people don’t see Ottawa as a city that has lots of poverty, and to be very honest, I didn’t really understand the level of poverty that exists in our city until I became principal of this school two years ago.
So, what does this mean? First, there is no equity. Some schools in our city can raise as much as $30,000.00 a year by fundraising projects and student fees. We get a stipend at the beginning of the year that represents about 20% of our overall budget and of course, we can’t fundraise.
To be successful in a school like this, you need to become a community activist. You attend brown bag lunch sessions with community service providers, you reach out to every community agency in the area, you never turn down something that is offered to your school for free.
You also become an expert fundraiser. Over the past two years, we have raised over $150,000.00 through fundraisers run by our community and by winning one very generous national fundraising competition.
All this takes a tremendous amount of work. The results are very gratifying, but even with grants there are strings attached. Well over 90% of the money we have raised goes to environmental projects. Again, this is not a complaint, that money is enough to rebuild our dilapidated schoolyard.
However, we need money for sports equipment, software licenses, computers, recreational and arts programming and good winter clothing. There are very few grants for items like these and that’s a problem.
What do we do? We keep looking for opportunities. Every child in our school from grade 3-6 has their own laptop – this is essential as many families do not have a computer so these machines go home every night and help families stay connected.
We get free swimming lessons and even free music lessons from the Orkidstra program. We have a great program called Rec Link that works to link families up to free or inexpensive recreation programs in our community. We even have a wonderful summer camp that takes at least ten to fifteen of our students for overnights throughout the year.
What does this all mean? To work in a poor school, you have to be an advocate, you have to reach out to everyone, you sometimes have to be a bulldog. But if you don’t do this, who will?
Is there equity in education? Not a chance. Whose fault is this – I leave that for you to decide. Am I complaining? No, just acting and connecting every day.
Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.
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