- by Michael Craig, Bluewater District School Board Trustee for Owen Sound

In my December trustee report I expressed frustration that Bluewater schools in Grey and Bruce counties scored rather poorly in comparison with others in Ontario on the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) assessments of grade three and ten students’ literacy and math skills. I am encouraged that our teachers and administrators are committed to improving in these areas.  

In particular, four literacy coaches work with grade one and two students and support teachers to implement a structured literacy program based on the Science of Reading. This evidence-based, scientific approach to learning to read involves a strong emphasis on phonetics (sounding out words) that is, by all accounts, the best way to turn letters on a page into recognizable words.  

Many younger teachers learned to read without a focus on phonetics (the recent olden days), so I asked senior staff how they feel about using Science of Reading methodology. The fact is, I was told, Bluewater teachers are enthusiastic about the phonetic approach to teaching kids to read, and keen to improve their skills via professional development. 

Coaches in mathematics at primary and junior levels work in eight focus schools, helping teachers to implement high impact strategies – getting students up to speed with math thinking and skills. The key is new approaches to improving teachers’ math teaching abilities.  

In both literacy and math, Bluewater is taking big steps in the right direction! Many educators are quite skeptical about comparative, across-the-board testing, but personally I will be watching carefully for EQAO results in coming years. 

Mental Health and Psychological Services

As an old guy with grandkids in the public system, I can remember when it was near impossible for parents and teachers to get help with students’ emotional and behavioural problems. In Ontario, mental health was not a priority and resources were scarce. 

I am pleased to report that much has changed, even in the past five years. The Bluewater Board’s mental health team has been substantially expanded. To ensure all school staff can recognize and provide support when a student is struggling, the Bluewater District School Board Guide to Mental Health Services was developed. Mental health resources and information are also accessible through the board website, bwdsb.on.ca

Training and support for school teams includes behaviour management systems, autism spectrum disorder, and other complex challenges. Staff connect teachers and parents with resources from School Mental Health Ontario, Kids Help Phone, Wellness and Emotional Support (WES) for Youth Online, and Canadian Mental Health Association. 

Once again, teachers are keen learners. The mental health team instructs them on the basics of cognitive behavioural therapy, social-emotional learning, grief interventions, and motivational interviewing. 

Last year an additional mental health worker was hired to increase the availability of therapeutic supports, with increased focus on earlier intervention for elementary students. Access to service was improved and barriers to support were decreased. Grade 7 and 8 classrooms were supported with presentations on stress and anxiety. 

Much of the work, I’m pleased to see, can be described as promotion and prevention – helping children and their parents to understand and care for their own mental health. You might say that we’re clearing out what, decades ago, was swept under the carpet. 

But let’s face it, that carpet is still there. The system’s ability to respond effectively to mental health challenges is still limited by a lack of community and Board resources. We won’t be content until our schools and society recognize and address every child’s educational and emotional needs.




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