Trustees with the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board are celebrating a successful summer season filled with activities to help reintroduce students to their classrooms.

The KPDSB hosted a number of Extended Learning programs over the summer to assist youth throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the transition back to in-person learning in September.

During their regular board meeting earlier this month, the KPDSB’s Superintendent of Secondary Education, Indigenous Education and Student Success, Shannon Bailey, presented a report on their summer programming for students between Kindergarten and Grade 12.

The report was created and presented along with Centrally Assigned Principal and Student Success Supports Leader Shawnda Norlock, Vice-Principal of New Prospect Public School Patti-Jo Brunton and Mental Health Leader Candace Kerkermeier.

Some of the extended learning opportunities included five in-person summer elementary programs for different age groups, with three in Kenora, one in Dryden and one in Ear Falls, with each of them having a large focus on confidence, self-regulation and hands-on outdoor learning.

“This year was a bit of a different year,” explained Brunton. “The purpose of the program was to reach our most vulnerable students who would benefit most from the program. The intent was to prevent summer learning loss and to increase achievement in literacy and numeracy. We had a high engagement [level] with personalized teaching. Our children excelled.”

Another learning opportunity was the KPDSB’s Reach Ahead program. Digital activities for Grade 8 students ran in 9 phases for students who were preparing to transition into secondary school, and for students who were preparing to return to in-person learning.

“Main topics that were covered include the Academy Days, where students got to sign up for a menu of opportunities that interested in them and participate in that,” said Bailey, who noted they held a virtual cake decorating contest by the end of the Reach Ahead program.

“Our schools offered transition supports in the week prior to school starting,” said Brunton. “Students who requested it or were identified by their schools had access to a staff member to come into the school and do a variety of opportunities to help with the transition back to the school year.”

Overall, the programs included 44 teachers, 17 educational assistants and 10 other staff supporting 115 students with special needs who accessed the support, as well as 120 students with mental health needs who accessed the supports.

Bailey later explained additional programming for secondary students, which included a Reach Ahead program for certain Grade 10 students, French Immersion programming, Indigenous programming, Civics classes, credit recovery programs and a very successful Co-op program. Overall, students gained 109 credits over the summer.

Board trustees noted that some of the programming’s funding came from an Ontario investment towards mental health initiatives within schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, and mental health was a priority for everyone throughout the summer months.

“The main focus was direct services to students,” said Kerkermeier, who explained the board was also able to retain three Student Councillors over the summer who are typically laid off, to reach out and assist students in need.

“Funding was also used for recruitment purposes,” she added. “We did hiring over the summer. We also had the development of resources. The summer really allowed us time to prioritize completing some resources and developing some new training materials.”

Some of the new training materials include final edits on the KPDSB’s Mental Health Handbook, updates to the board’s Life Promotion, Prevention and Intervention Protocol of 2016, and the creation of a video to support students on the LGBTQ2S+ spectrum.

“This summer, we offered more opportunities for students than we ever have before,” noted Director of Education, Sherri-Lynne Pharand, who thanked staff members for their leadership and efforts over the summer.

“It was certainly a necessary support as we’re coming out of the pandemic, but the fun, intentional learning opportunities that help to create confidence and reconnect kids to school, and the connection to mental health and well-being, it’s really important,” she added.

Students and staff have a number of new COVID-19 prevention measures to help ensure as safe a return as possible. These new measures include mask or face coverings for staff and Grade 1 to 12 students inside schools and on school buses, daily screening, additional hand washing stations and much more.

While many have been and are continuing to adjust to the new COVID-19 protocols, some students have still opting to learn online.

At this time last year, The board says over 1,000 students were learning virtually. Now, just under 50 students – largely from northern, isolated communities – are learning remotely. Trustees say they’re working on a return to school plan for these students as well with additional vaccinations and boarding homes.

All students and staff members are reminded that you must self-screen using Ontario’s School Screening Tool for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to KPDSB schools or before boarding a school bus each day. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or an illness must stay home.