Public Funds For Public Schools

Today we joined with 13 organizations to call for the reduction of public funding to private schools in Alberta. We believe that those funds could be reallocated to address the needs we hear most often from students, parents and teachers such as school fees, large class sizes and lack of classroom and mental health supports. http://www.pialberta.org/release_publicfundsforpublicschools

Women’s Rights are Children’s Rights

Our Op-ed from the January 27, 2017 edition of the Calgary Herald

Silva and Blasetti: There’s Good Reason Albertans marched in the streets last weekend

Last Saturday, an estimated 120,000 people across Canada marched in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington.

Approximately 10,000 of those participants were in Alberta.

It is safe to say Albertans marched in opposition to the outcome of the recent American election. It’s safe to say we are concerned about women’s rights in the U.S.

It is also safe to say something deeper motivated 120,000 Canadians to spend their Saturday marching in the streets. Albertans marched in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington to demonstrate that we too are dedicated to protecting women’s rights in Canada.

Since the march, Albertans are discussing how to turn this event into a movement — how to capitalize on this awakening and find new resolve to protect and uphold equity in Alberta.

We know that when women are marginalized, so too are children. Ninety-three per cent of Alberta children are educated through the public school system. Perhaps the best place to address inequity faced by Albertans is through public education. Addressing the policies that highlight inequities is an excellent starting point.

School fees across Alberta are on the rise. For many Albertans, September is more financially stressful than December, and can be crippling for families existing around the poverty line.

Albertans marched because women are overrepresented in poverty.

We marched because one in six Alberta children live in poverty, a statistic largely unchanged in 25 years.

We marched because the wage gap and cost of child care contribute to inequities that make school fees disproportionately difficult for women.

We marched because access to education is a human right.

We call upon our government to eliminate school fees across the province.

Food insecurity is a reality for many low-income families and is highest among households led by single mothers.

Albertans marched because 41 per cent of Calgary Food Bank clients are children for whom hunger can be a barrier to learning.

We marched because overcrowded schools have led to space and time crunches that promote unhealthy eating habits.

We call for a provincewide nutrition program that gives all children the adequate space, time and nutrition necessary to fuel their bodies and minds.

Albertans marched because sexual assault against girls and women is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining. Since 1999, rates of sexual assault have remained largely unchanged.

We marched because only one in three Canadians understand what consent means.

We marched because 39 per cent of Canadian adult women reported having had at least one experience of sexual assault since the age of 16.

We call for a properly updated sexual health curriculum in Alberta. We must insist on addressing body autonomy, body agency and consent. We can no longer ignore that women and girls are disproportionately affected by sexual violence.

Albertans marched because we are concerned about the mental health and well-being of fellow Albertans and believe supports are a basic human right.

We marched because women’s mental health is undermined by social isolation, restricted decision-making, devalued role expectations, poverty, violence and sexual abuse.

We marched because we know severity and duration of mental health problems are reduced through early identification and intervention.

We marched because not all parents have the resources to access supports for their children.

We call for every school in Alberta to be provided with proper expertise to address growing concerns for the mental health of our children.

We marched last Saturday because there is growing concern over the continued injustices faced by women across the world. It’s time to mobilize around issues such as public education, which influence the lives of the majority of Alberta families.

Albertans can take action by joining women-led organizations such as Support Our Students Alberta and supporting school board, municipal, provincial and federal political candidates who truly understand how empowering women and supporting public education can improve the lives of Alberta children.

Silva and Blasetti: There's good reason Albertans marched in the streets last weekend

By Barbara Silva and Carolyn Blasetti Last Saturday, an estimated 120,000 people across Canada marched in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. Approximately 10,000 of those participants were in Alberta. It is safe to say Albertans marched in opposition to the outcome of the recent American election.

 

 

2015 PISA Results – Working Together with Thought and Purpose

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The 2015 PISA scores were released December 6. The focus of the test was science and Alberta results were strong in all areas as has been the case in the past. The topic that will be hotly debated will be the math results that have shown a small decline over several years. However we encourage all those interested in education to work together in a thoughtful purposeful way on areas such as math literacy and avoid sensationalizing these results. Alberta Education has taken action on addressing concerns with math education through the Math Curriculum Review Working Group.

Today’s results highlight the success of both Alberta teachers and students who continue to make a strong showing nationally and internationally.

As a public education advocacy group we strongly support an education system that develops well educated and engaged citizens. We are keenly aware that a large portion of our population, including parents and government, measure success with quantitative measures such as the PISA international test.

We understand the need to measure progress of students and the importance of using international criteria to assess the effectiveness of education methodologies and systems. However, as a child centred advocacy group we would like to emphasize the dangers of high stakes standardized tests on students and on how placing a high value on international test results can negatively influence education policy.  

The role of tests like PISA on the education system must be clearly defined along with recognizing the purpose for such measurements.  PISA tests are ONE measurement completed at ONE time during the school year.  In much the same way your dashboard has multiple gauges to determine the efficiency of your vehicle, the PISA score is simply one gauge of the vehicle in this case the education system.

Discussions around the 2015 PISA scores for Alberta, only serve to underscore the strategies advocated for by Support Our Students Alberta(SOSAB).  Prior to the PISA results, it was apparent, through reports from teachers, parents, and previous results both provincially and internationally, that more needs to be done to improve the numeracy of Alberta’s students. Some solutions SOSAB advocates for include:

  1. Stronger balance between rote memorization and inquiry based learning.  In the same way we have found a balance between phonics and decoding, a combination of both pedagogies must be achieved to attain the highest possible understanding of numeracy.
  2. Return to an emphasis on teachers obtaining subject specialization for all subject areas. This means teachers are trained at the university level for subject specialization so that proficiency, in this case, mathematics is required to teach in the system. Having teachers who are expert and have a love for the subject they are teaching improves the quality of instruction and student outcomes.

Quebec consistently outperforms other provinces on math scores: Researchers say Quebec’s strong performance is a result of intensive teacher training and a curriculum that balances basic math drills with problem-solving approaches. In Quebec, for example, elementary-school math teachers must take as many as 225 hours of university courses in math education. In other Canadian provinces, that number can be as low as 39. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/tests-show-provincial-differences-in-math-reading-science-education/article20955151/ )

SOS AB encourages Alberta to implement a similar strategy.

  1. Move to meet the class size recommendations as set out by the

Alberta Learning Commission Report  of 2003. Facilitating learning is more effective in class sizes that maximize individual attention.

As a child focused advocacy group, we believe high stakes, high stress testing is not in the best interest of students.  We do however, acknowledge and support the need for a variety tools to measure both students and the system.  But it is imperative to have a balance between what is most useful for student success and the emphasis placed on standardized tests.  Let’s not forget assessment in Alberta classrooms is ongoing using a variety of methods, everyday.   

It is also important to recognize the inherent biases associated with achievement tests such as the PISA.  In May 2014, 80 academics from across the globe wrote an Open Letter to Andreas Schleicher, Director of PISA, expressing some such concerns.  

Finally, it is evident Alberta needs to continue working towards much needed reform that improves the quality and equity of our public education system. Prior to the 2015 PISA results, parents, teachers and employers had already observed falling levels of numeracy among students. We urge citizens, students, and government at all levels, to consider advocating for and implementing the strategies SOSAB recommends in order to improve areas such as math literacy in Alberta. Not because attaining high international rankings is an end goal for the education system, but because our students deserve a richer, more balanced and inclusive approach to their education.

https://www.oecd.org/pisa/test/PISA%202012%20items%20for%20release_ENGLISH.pdf

School Fees Are Putting an Unfair Burden on Alberta Families

We spoke to CTV Calgary about the impact school fees have on Alberta students.

Group pushing Alberta government to do something about school fees

The Calgary Board of Education says that millions of dollars in school fees are being waived for parents who just can’t cover the costs in the difficult economy, but one group says the government needs to do more.


 

 

 

Survey Seeks Data on Alberta School System

Alberta principal survey seeks data on inequities in school system

Do have-not schools exist in Alberta? That’s a question that one parents advocacy group hopes to answer with the help of school principals across the province. Support Our Students Alberta wants to know if students in Grande Prairie have access to the same resources that kids in Medicine Hat do, for example.

Thoughts on the First Day of School

 

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What an incredible summer our family has had. We’ve been on both our best and worst camping trips this year. We’ve covered a big chunk of Alberta, as far North as Whitecourt (if you’ve never been to their Rotary Park, you need to go. I promise, even if you live in Lethbridge, this place is worth the drive http://www.whitecourt.ca/RecreationCulture/RotaryPark/tabid/675/Default.aspx) and as far South as Pincher Creek and Frank’s Slide. We even discovered an amazing gem just an hours drive from our front door: Dry Island Buffalo Jump http://www.albertaparks.ca/dry-island-buffalo-jump/information-facilities/.

Alberta is truly a spectacular place. I’m so grateful to have the chance to raise my children here and to be able to see so much of what our province has to offer. I’ve lived here my entire life; my childhood was spent in a teeny tiny town in central Alberta, my twenties in the far, far North, and now my husband and I are raising our children in a nice size town south of Red Deer.

My husband works on the road so he misses a lot of things, but this fall he gets to be home for a big moment: our oldest child D’s first day of Kindergarten! It’s hard to say who’s the most excited in our house; we are a family of adventurers after all. It’s gratifying to see your children grow up and take big steps like riding the school bus for the first time, but there’s a little trepidation as well. I worry about our son making friends and following the classroom rules. I worry that coming from a liberal household in a conservative, rural area is going to limit his social life, even more so because he’ll be starting French Immersion in Grade One.

But even those worries can’t dampen the thrill I feel about all the things D is going to be cramming into his head in the next ten months. The other day, he told me that when his Daddy gets home, he’s going to get him to build him a time machine so he can take me back to the day the dinosaurs died, so that I’ll die. (Quiet time is pretty controversial in our house) Beyond being upset about his death wish on me, I did admire his creativity. It’s exciting to think of how much more imaginative his insults (and compliments: he’s good at those too) are going to get with exposure to new ideas.

Some of those new ideas will have to be corrected: yes, girls can marry other girls, no Jesus is not going to send you to hell if you don’t believe in him. But we’re going to live our lives by the values that we hold. Love, kindness, generosity, curiosity, learning, justice, and loud-mouthed exuberant affection. I might get called into the office because D drops an F-bomb. We’ll work that out if it happens. If he does have trouble making friends, I’ll hold him and make sure he knows that boys do cry. And I will always advocate for him and his classmates, because children deserve the very best education this beautiful province can give them. Happy First Day of School everyone!

Warm regards from rural Alberta

P.S. In the interests of embarrassing D as much as possible, please enjoy this recent picture of him in the bathtub.

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Open Letter: Why One Alberta Mom Thinks Funding Private Christian Schools Isn’t Just Wrong…It’s Dangerous

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When an SOS Alberta supporter read this article on our Facebook page (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/two-private-schools-won-t-comply-with-alberta-lgbtq-policy-says-pastor-1.3740138), she took the time to write us about her experience growing up in a similar school environment.  We admire the courage it took to write this piece.  We found it enlightening and moving. With her permission, we are sharing her open letter:

Dear Albertans,

This morning I woke up and read the most unsurprising news of my life. In a world where water is wet and blue mixed with red makes purple, the chair of two Christian schools announced that they would not comply with guidelines designed to protect the human rights and dignity of LGBTQA2S+ students. The only thing shocking to me about this news is that it took until the thirtieth of August for media to hear about it, because in the world that I grew up in, this one is just a no-brainer.  

I was raised in a lifestyle that I like to refer to as “fundagelical”: fundamentalist evangelical. The intricate subtleties of fundagelical culture would fill tomes, and we just don’t have that kind of time here. What I do have time to tell you is this: fundagelicals speak a different language than everyone else. The reason you’ve never noticed this is because this language is entirely comprised of words that also exist in English. So when I say something like, “I want what’s best for my children”, what I mean is exactly what you think I mean, that my intentions and actions are guided by a desire to see my children benefit from having their emotional, mental, and physical well being prioritized. When a fundagelical says, “I want what’s best for my children”, they mean something slightly different.

You see, in their culture “what’s best for children” can be summed up this way: to be raised in, devoted to, and reflective of the glory of their god, and eventually saved by his grace in order to enter the kingdom of heaven; henceforth referred to as “The Prime Directive”. Now, just to clarify, I am not suggesting that fundagelical parents do not care about the physical, emotional, and mental health of their children. What I am saying is that those things don’t fall under the category of what they mean when they say “what is best for my children”. The bottom line is that, given a conflict between those things and the Prime Directive, the Prime Directive will win. Almost every time. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and check out the mission statements on one of the aforementioned schools, and the one I attended as a child:

http://www.meadowsbaptist.ca/#!about-us/c1se http://rockychristian.wrsd.ca/

When I was five years old, my mother helped me pack a lunch and drove me to my first day of Kindergarten. I remember the blocks stacked against the wall by the entrance and the circle corner on the opposite side of the room. I remember my teacher Miss P. (that’s a whole other letter). We prayed to start the day. We heard Bible stories and memorized Bible verses. We prayed to end the day. None of this was odd to me; I grew up in this culture after all. In truth, I can’t recall when it was I finally figured out that our school wasn’t like other schools. Maybe around grade five is when we started whispering behind our hands to each other about the other kids on our busses who had to go to schools where they learned Evolution. What was Evolution? The EVIL idea that we all came from monkeys. We all knew this was ridiculous of course. Anyone with half a brain knew that God made man from dirt and woman from his rib.

It’s hard to recall, exactly, when I first heard about gay people (that’s when boys marry boys and girls marry girls). “Ewwwwwwww” we all said, as if we actually understood why the adults around us would find it gross. Transgender people were not even on our radar, although to this day, I am convinced there was at least one very close in age to me. Occasionally, I’ll think of them, and hope so fervently that they made it.

I’m a little ways into adulthood now. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that I truly do not understand the scope of my own lack of knowledge. But I’d like to think that I’ve gained a relatively good perspective about my time spent in fundagelical culture. After all, few things are more humbling than realizing that you’re wrong about almost everything.

Looking back on myself as a young teenager, I’ve no doubt I was an unpleasant one. A strong, stubborn personality combined with a childhood focused on holiness instead of personal development, topped off with an environment steeped in authoritarianism and indoctrination. Mix all that up with the raging hormones of puberty and the fact I’d been surrounded by the same thirty odd peers for eight years, it’s no surprise I was friendless at school. And believe me when I tell you, in an institution like that, there is no better target than the smart-mouthed loner. When the other students don’t like you and the teachers think you need to be put in your place, the only place you can turn is your parents……except when you can’t………because……..Prime Directive.

I am not gay or bi or transgender. Cis-hetero privilege right here folks! But I know what it feels like to want to die rather than go to school. I write with no exaggeration that my former fear of hell is the only reason I am still alive. There were so many nights when I wondered if I could swallow enough pills from the medicine cabinet, wait until I was on the brink of passing out, repent to God by telling my parents before I died but too late to get me to the ER, and still manage to pull it off so I could go to heaven. Because being fourteen with no sanctuary at home or school is the worst hell I know.

IT IS THE WORST HELL THAT I KNOW.

And right now, what Pastor Coldwell and the rest of the people and parents involved in the “religious freedom” and “parents’ rights” crusade are trying to do is make sure that kids with no sanctuary at home also find none at school. Because while they may be concerned about the LGBTQA2S+ student’s well being, they’re more concerned with the Prime Directive. They’re using words that make you feel like you can get behind them, but THEY ARE SPEAKING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE!

Did you hear me? THEY ARE SPEAKING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE!

Stop agreeing with them without understanding what they are actually saying.

Recently, a friend of mine (also raised in a fundagelical household) told a story: As a child, after learning the story of Abraham and Isaac (http://www.gospelweb.net/YouthItems/abrahamandisaac.htm), he asked his father “if God told you to sacrifice me, would you do it?”.  His father answered, “I hope I’d have the strength”.  Make no mistake, this is the standard answer in fundagelical culture. The ability to throw children onto the altar of their god is a point of righteousness within their community.

There is one more cultural quirk I’d like to talk about before bringing this epic to a close. I want to talk about the word “bitter”. When those in fundagelical culture use the word “bitter”, they are not referring to someone who is resentful. They are using that distinction as a way of dismissing a narrative that is troubling to their culture. In fundagelical communities, forgiveness is very much a power play. The parable of the Unforgiving Servant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Unforgiving_Servant) is frequently used as a bludgeon to force victims to forgive the perpetrators who have wronged them. It’s an easy way of maintaining the status quo without having to do any actual internal reflection. As long as the perpetrator behaves with some contrition, the victim is required to forgive them, lest they be labeled as “bitter”.

If this open letter reaches any significant portion of Alberta, there are going to be pastors and principals, teachers and parents who claim that I am bitter. My own mother has called me bitter to my face more times than I could ever count. She said it to me on the nights I thought about that medicine cabinet. She said it to me after my children were born, when I knew what it was to be a mother and to have a deep and primal instinct to protect my children. Those people are speaking their language. They are not trying to convince you that I am “resentful”. They are trying to convince their own that I am unforgiving. That I am the Unforgiving Servant, so that what I have told you today can be dismissed.

There are going to be those who do dismiss my words right away. I’m not writing this for them. I’m writing this for people who have misinterpreted the language of the fundagelicals. They are defrauding you and they are doing it by appealing to your basic instincts as parents. But they don’t mean what you think they mean when they say things like: “Love! Freedom! Parents’ Choice!”. They mean something different.

I am asking you to look into the eyes of your children and see the people that they really are. They are so beautiful. And they shouldn’t have to flounder through their pre-adult years alone. I was unpleasant, but I was beautiful. The transgender person in my school was beautiful. The gay students I knew, but never knew were gay, were beautiful. And we all deserved so much more than the Prime Directive.

Please, stop the funding. Just stop it.

And for anyone, queer or straight, who is reading this while trapped in one of these places, you need to know that there are people out here who can see you. We know that you’re there and if you can make it out, we will be here to catch you. So just hold on. I don’t believe in hell anymore, but I’m still glad I made it. There’s a beautiful life waiting for you on this side. I know because I’m living it.

M.D.

 

Opinion: Public Money Best Invested in Alberta’s Public Schools

 

 

Our op-ed in the Edmonton Journal today:

"Tax dollars invested in public education is money well spent. Public schools…

Posted by Support Our Students Alberta on Monday, July 11, 2016