Connect with us


Retired educator worries teachers aren’t being consulted about back to school guidelines



As a retired teacher, Joyce Nicholson has been following the developments about the back to school COVID-19 guidelines with interest — and concern.

“The decisions are being made from the top down,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of input coming from the people that are actually involved.”

Nicholson started teaching in 1975 and worked in the field both in Canada and internationally, including a five year stint as a high school guidance counselor in Calgary.

She has seen many conversations about how parents feel about the guidelines, but worries teachers aren’t being heard.

In particular, Nicholson said she’s thinking of teachers who have a newborn at home or a spouse who is immunocompromised. 

Joyce Nicholson is a retired teacher living in southwest Saskatchewan. (Supplied by Joyce Nicholson)

“Parents are given a choice to do what they feel is right for their children concerning returning to school,” she said. “Teachers do not have that same opportunity to decide what they feel is right for themselves as individuals.”

She’s also concerned that once teachers do go back to school, they’ll struggle to implement the guidelines.

“The kinds of things that teachers are going to need to do to ensure a classroom is safe is on top of that content that they need to teach,” she said. “It’s a huge responsibility and I think there are a lot of assumptions and expectations on individual teachers.” 

Nicholson suggested bringing in retired teachers like herself or parent volunteers to help.

But Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, doesn’t think bringing back retired teachers is the answer.

“If it’s retired teachers who we are depending on, well, often they’re up in that age bracket that … we’re most concerned about with the virus,” he said.

Maze said individual teachers should talk to their employers about concerns they might have and he expects schools will need to hire extra cleaning staff.

Recommendations can’t be enforced, says STF president

Schools have until June 30 to submit their back to school plans to the Ministry of Education and Maze said he’s looking forward to seeing the specific actions that are included in those plans.

“We know that social distancing in schools is going to be very difficult,” Maze said. “We have buildings that are at or over capacity. And so the recommendations from the chief medical health officer can’t be enforced in those situations.”

He said many schools have portables added on to manage increased enrolment, but that solution doesn’t address the increased need for bathroom space, which could be an issue if more hand washing is enforced.

“There’s lots of parents and lots of staff members and, of course, lots and lots of teachers who have lots of concerns for what’s going to happen in September,” Maze said.

“We want to make sure that student and staff safety is the No. 1 priority and that we’re not cutting corners just in order to save a few dollars or because our budgets don’t permit us to spend on safety of our staff and students.”

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Feds should have put $912M into Canada Summer Jobs program: Opposition




OTTAWA — Federal opposition parties are demanding to know why the Liberal government created a $900-million program to help students find volunteer positions rather than putting the much-needed funds into an existing summer jobs program.

The call for answers comes as the government tries to chart a way forward for the new Canada Student Services Grant, which has been in limbo after WE Charity withdrew from administering the program amid controversy over its links to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family.

The Liberals have billed the grant program as a way to reward tens of thousands of students who want to help with the COVID-19 pandemic and can’t find paid work. Participants were told they could earn up to $5,000 toward their education costs by volunteering the maximum 500 hours.

Opposition parties say the Liberals could have accomplished the same task without controversy by putting the money into the Canada Summer Jobs program, through which thousands of positions for students are subsidized by the federal government every year.

“The government chose specifically to ignore the opportunity of the Canada Summer Jobs and instead went for this,” Conservative economic development critic Dan Albas said of the Canada Student Services Grant.

“It makes no sense … They put a ton of money — $912 million — towards an untested concept when they have a ready-to-go program.”

The Liberals have expanded the summer-jobs program by increasing the wage subsidy available to companies and not-for-profit groups to 100 per cent of the local minimum wage, expanding what types of positions qualified and extending the eligible work period to early next year.

They also injected an extra $60 million to create 10,000 more positions than last year for students. The move brought the total budget for the program to $323 million and the expected number of summer jobs to 80,000.

The opposition says the available funding is not enough to cover demand in a normal year. The federal Employment and Social Development Department itself says on its website that in 2019, “requests for funding totalled more than three times the program budget.”

Neither the government nor WE have said how many volunteer positions they were expecting to fill through the $912-million grant program. There has been criticism that participants receive only $10 per hour — less than the minimum wage in any province.

There have also been questions about many positions advertised as available through the volunteer scheme, including thousands for students to shoot videos, make websites and create other content in placements apparently created by WE to meet the requirements of the volunteer program.

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said that stands in contrast to the summer jobs program after the government asked members of Parliament across the country to identify potential positions in their ridings in the spring — many of which did not get funding.

“We had really legitimate organizations ready to hire students to do legitimate work, and all of that was sidelined,” Angus said. “These were a lot more credible positions than making a video showing how to do exercises.”

The Liberals have indicated they plan to move ahead with the volunteer program despite WE’s withdrawal, saying the federal Employment Department has taken over and is looking at ways to make it happen.

But the Conservatives, NDP and Greens all say the government should learn its lesson and put the money into the Canada Summer Jobs program, which is already managed by the government and has a history of success.

That starts with revisiting what the Tories and New Democrats suggested was the large number of summer jobs requested by businesses and not-for-profits and not funded because of a shortage of money.

“The government should be focused on a program that is transparent, that is fair, that is broadly supported by all parties, and that already has a number of applications that have been ranked and have not been filled just because there’s not enough money,” Albas said.

Green MP Elizabeth May said organizations that applied for positions through the student-volunteer program should also be allowed to transfer their requests to the summer-jobs program.

And if that is not possible, Angus said, the government should be looking at taking the money and putting it into direct financial support for students, including by adding the funds to the Canada Emergency Student Benefit for those unable to find work due to COVID-19.

“They have two options: One is to put that money into Canada Summer Jobs and one is to put it straight into the support for university students so they have the funds necessary to go to school and cut out all these schemes they worked out with WE,” he said.

“I think they need to move on this immediately. The summer is getting close to half over. It may be at this point too difficult to get the Canada Summer Jobs up, but there are a lot of organizations that we submitted names for.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, meanwhile, repeated a call on Tuesday for Trudeau to step aside in favour of his deputy Chrystia Freeland while the WE affair is fully investigated. But Blanchet said that based on what’s known now, he doesn’t believe the Liberal government should fall over it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2020.

Source link

Continue Reading


Charities question whether WE-run student program would have been worth the money




Potential partners and participants in the Canada Student Service Grant program are questioning how money from the $912 million student summer grant program was being spent by WE Charity — and whether the programming would have provided meaningful experiences for student volunteers.

CBC News has been shown documents that WE Charity created as part of its role as program administrator and funds distributor. Before it withdrew from its $19.5 million contract to administer the program, WE was partnering with charities and non-profit organizations to put the student volunteers to work. Teachers were also sub-contracted to both recruit and supervise groups of students from their communities.

The program set aside money for training and supervising the students, based on the number of students who signed on — a financial incentive for the charities and teachers to get as many students involved as possible.

Teachers picking up this extra contract work to supplement their regular public salaries this summer were to receive $12,000 for recruiting 75 to 100 students. In rural areas, they’d only need to supervise 55 students for the same amount of money.

In a statement issued to CBC News Monday, WE said the primary role of these teachers was to support students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or to recruit students in parts of the country with fewer volunteer opportunities.

Many charities have seen their regular programming and fundraising significantly disrupted by the pandemic and have been forced to lay off staff, making it difficult for them to welcome new student volunteers. That’s why up to $5 million of the program’s budget was earmarked to give organizations the capacity to train and supervise volunteers.

But charities appear to have been offered different amounts of money to supervise similar numbers of students.

WE said the funds were being allocated among the 83 organizations that had signed up to take volunteers, based on each organization’s reach (local versus national) and its ability to engage “target populations,” which were defined in terms of regional diversity and whether the participants were visible minority individuals or Indigenous.

Different sums for different charities

WE was collecting information about the ethnicities of students applying for the grant.

CBC News has been shown an email to a smaller charity. In it, a WE representative tells the charitable organization it could receive “up to $10,000” for supervising at least 100 students for a minimum of 100 hours.

Meanwhile, another larger charity that was talking to WE about participating was told that it could receive $25,000 to host 100 students, or up to $100,000 in program funding if it could scale up to take 400 volunteers.

CBC News is not identifying the charities or the individuals who provided this information because they remain interested in hosting student volunteers this summer. Operational responsibility for the grant has transferred to the government, but the program has not been cancelled — even if it has stalled for now.

Youth Minister Bardish Chagger’s office says it is working away on a transition plan as the federal government takes over the youth volunteer grant program from the WE Charity. (The Canadian Press)

Danielle Keenan is a spokesperson for Bardish Chagger, the youth minister who is responsible for this program. Keenan told CBC News Monday that the government is still working diligently on a transition plan which, among other things, will determine what happens with partners and subcontractors who’ve already signed on to the program. Chagger said earlier this month her department wanted to proceed in a way that has as few adverse impacts on students as possible.

WE told CBC that it has strongly recommended that the work begun by the partners it contracted continue.

‘Only positive mentions’ allowed

The text of a potential partnership agreement between WE Charity and a charity that was a prospective participant in the program was shared with CBC News. It includes language requiring the partner to keep all information confidential.

The program is defined in the agreement as part of the broader Canada Service Corps youth initiative that began prior to the pandemic.

The agreement, which needed to be signed before an organization could receive any financial support for hosting volunteers, requires all personnel to “make only positive mentions of the project, including in public disclosures and social media.”

Organizations that participated were required to submit a positive quote that WE could use to promote the program, to allow their logos to be used by WE, to participate in WE-hosted launch events and to promote the program on their social media channels “at least twice” using templates WE would provide.

The agreement shown to CBC News includes a specific target for the number of volunteers the charity or non-profit would oversee.

Even if 100,000 students were recruited and logged enough hours to earn the maximum $5,000 grant, that would only account for $500 million of the more than $900 million allocated to the program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to the audience as he appears on stage during WE Day UN in New York City, Sept. 20, 2017. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the size of the government’s budget relative to the number of volunteers anticipated.

The prime minister insisted again that WE Charity had a network capable of making these youth placements quickly, adding that was the reason why the public service recommended contracting the project out.

“We’ll work with other organizations and perhaps with Service Canada as a way of delivering those grants,” he said, adding that the public service is working on a new delivery model to replace WE.

‘I’ve heard absolutely nothing’

In their statement published in full-page newspaper ads on Monday, WE founders Craig and Marc Kielburger said their coalition of 83 not-for-profit partners was supporting 24,000 placements, “with more opportunities being added.”

The prime minister said Monday in French that the placements WE arranged are still available to the government “free,” even though WE has pulled out of its contract.

Some students who have applied online have yet to be matched with a volunteer opportunity so they can start accumulating hours. They only have until the end of October to accumulate the 500 service hours required for the maximum $5,000 grant.

University of British Columbia student Amanda Dickson-Otty told CBC News that she applied for the volunteer grant program before WE decided to withdraw from the contract, and was told that the first 40,000 applicants would be assigned to a “volunteer placement manager” to match them with a specific volunteer opportunity.

She said she was never told if she was to be among this first cohort, but the most recent count of applications from both WE and the federal government is 35,000 — so it appears she could be.

“I’ve heard absolutely nothing,” she said, adding that she hasn’t seen many new listings lately. “It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.”

Dickson-Otty said she prefers to work with a placement manager rather than apply directly to one posting.

“Honestly, since there are hundreds of placement options, it’s a bit overwhelming to pick just one,” she said. “What if I pick one that has hundreds of applications for two positions, instead of another suitable position that desperately needs people? What if I pick a position that, once I learn more about it, I realize I’m not actually suited for?”

Whether they were to be supervised by a subcontracted teacher or a non-profit organization, WE was allowing students to earn up to one quarter of the 100 hours required to receive the minimum grant ($1,000) by completing online training modules through LinkedIn Learning.

WE told CBC News that it established a mandatory five-hour “on-boarding” course, followed by optional training materials that could be used toward a further 20 hours.

This training could be specific to their volunteer job this summer, but could also include skills useful later in life. The cost of developing this training was part of WE’s administration contract.

No work available? Make some

WE representatives encouraged charities and non-profits to participate even if didn’t have any work that needed doing this summer, and offered to help those organizations invent new work.

WE told CBC News on Monday that “many long-standing service opportunities did not fit the safety criteria which was established as part of the program considerations.”

Instead, it said, it created volunteer roles that were “repositioning these organizations’ needs into safe service opportunities.”

Teachers supervising students could match students with volunteer jobs that individual organizations were offering, or — if there weren’t any suitable ones available — create new jobs from WE’s suggestions of activities, which included:


  • Tutoring children whose classroom learning was disrupted this spring, including the kids of front line workers.

  • Creating exercise information and videos for children or seniors to help them keep active while staying inside.

  • Making protective masks, which could then be given to children for the next school year.

  • Creating ways to celebrate front-line workers. 


The materials WE sent to charities offer suggestions like putting “digitally savvy student volunteers” to work designing social media campaigns, creating photo and video content or doing other online research.

Another role suggested making students “COVID-19 Safe Ambassadors” who could be trained on “critical social issues” like bullying, literacy or mental health and then share their knowledge as mentors in the community.

Students with creative skills could “interview and write stories on behalf of seniors who have been isolated by COVID-19, to celebrate their lives and achievements, and share their wisdom and knowledge through the creation of an intergenerational capsule of community stories,” WE suggested.

Wilfrid Laurier students take part in a pre-pandemic convocation ceremony. One expert in management and organization studies questions whether the program WE planned to run would have left young volunteers with useful skills. (WLUConvocation/Twitter)

Colleen Sharen, a Brescia University College professor in management and organization studies, said she doubts that many students — particularly those just graduating from high school — have the expertise to work as trainers.

“You’re setting students up to have an expertise that they don’t really have,” she said. Social media campaigns can be great, she said, but “if you’re talking about mental health and tactics to manage mental health … there are many students who might, with all the right intentions, communicate bad information because they don’t have the expertise they need to do it.”

Other suggested activities — like telling seniors’ stories or making masks — aren’t necessarily experiences that set students up for future careers, she added.

“I’m not sure if employers care if you sewed 100 masks during COVID,” she said. “Do we really need videos on seniors stories? It’s nice, but if we weren’t in a pandemic we would not be paying students to do this. Is it enough value we added, or are we just creating a justification for giving students money?”

Rather than pay teachers and other groups to execute this program, Sharen said it would be cheaper and more efficient to just give students in need $900 million to fund their education next year through existing programs, as the current system for government grants does now.

A straight cash transfer to needy students also would have avoided claims that the federal government has designed a program that violates employment standards by paying less than minimum wage.

While it’s important to make sure students don’t drop out of school because of financial need during the pandemic, “let’s not make this more complicated than it needs to be,” Sharen said.

Source link

Continue Reading


How we can turn the momentum of Black Lives Matter into real change




I am a young Canadian Black man and I feel fortunate and privileged to have grown up in this country. I was born in Ghana and my family immigrated to Canada when I was young in pursuit of a better quality of life.

On Sept. 26, 2019, my phone rang. It was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He was calling in the wake of the now-notorious “blackface incident.”

Trudeau apologized for putting me — a racialized member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council — in what he characterized as an “awkward position.”

The prime minister also told me that he was embarrassed and concerned about how his family, peers and the public would view his actions and his character. He acknowledged that many of us, including people within the government, have blind spots because of their privilege and world view.

I respect him for this gesture and recognized the courage it took to make the call.

I was more concerned, however, about how our leader would assure Canadians and the rest of the world that what happened, however many years ago, was not cool then — and is not cool now.

During our conversation in September, my recommendations to the prime minister were specific and straightforward. I urged Trudeau to lead by example and to mandate that all elected officials and decision makers in government receive anti-racism education and training. He agreed with me. He promised changes.

Some of those changes came to pass, such as the appointment of Bardish Chagger as minister of diversity and inclusion and youth in November 2019 and the establishment of an Anti-Racism Secretariat the following month.

But these attempts at change by the man at the head of the ‘national table’ stand in stark contrast to the impressive acts of solidarity by the Black Lives Matter movement. People traumatized by images of death and pain have come together in acts of courage and determination across Canada.

Anti-racism protests have taken place across Canada since the death of George Floyd. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

I am disheartened by people in power — but I am encouraged by the power of the people.

I don’t want to diminish the work of the prime minister or of the Canadian government. I understand efforts are being made. There is momentum right now for the Black Lives Matter movement from coast to coast, but we need some concrete steps to turn that momentum into positive change.

On June 8, my Youth Council colleagues and I penned a letter calling on the prime minister and his cabinet to endorse and implement our anti-racism calls to action. These calls to action are relevant to all levels of government and any elected official. 

We want:

  • Mandatory anti-racism training and education for elected officials and publicly funded institutions.

  • Measurable targets and evidence of training.

  • A commitment to diversifying leadership so that it is reflective of Canadian society.

  • The collection of race-based wellbeing and/or quality-of-life data to ensure investment in social determinants of health and areas of society where racialized and vulnerable populations need it most.

  • A move to defund police and re-invest in Black and Indigenous communities.

I took to Twitter recently to share more thoughts regarding training:

During our recent youth council virtual gathering on June 26, the prime minister addressed these calls to action and recognized their importance and relevance.

But I don’t see any changes — and I cannot wait any longer.

That’s why I’ve launched to facilitate public engagement and stimulate action via customized messages directed to elected officials. Add your voice to the calls to action and engage your local elected representative wherever you are today. 

It’s not enough to talk about change in front of a camera or on a stage, or with a social media post. We must tear down and dismantle systems that perpetuate injustice and begin to change the way we govern society fundamentally.

Street portrait in honor of Georges Floyd in Pointe-Saint-Charles, Montreal. (CBC / Radio-Canada)

Elected officials from the prime minister down must be held accountable while being given specific direction on what we — the people who put power into their hands— want that change to be.

The time for talk is over.  It’s time for collective action.

Source link

Continue Reading