At HWDSB, we strive to have safe and inclusive schools for both the sake of student safety and because research shows that students perform better in welcoming environments. This is why we are examining our allocation of resources, our supports for diverse learners and how we can build the kind of respectful learning environments that students and staff deserve.
We know there is a strong connection between student achievement and mental health. Attention to our students’ mental health assists schools in accomplishing their core mission – learning and achievement for all students – by improving students’ development, readiness to learn, classroom behaviour and academic performance. Since spring 2009, a work group has been meeting to create the beginning of a mental health strategy. A cross-departmental initiative, the district mental health strategy is designed to mobilize the system around issues of child and youth mental health in order to enhance HWDSB’s capacity to recognize and respond to mental health issues.
We continue to make our schools welcoming and respectful environments for everyone. In June 2010, the final strand of the equity policy was passed. Equity and inclusive education goals are embedded in everything we do at HWDSB, as well as process and progress indicators to ensure we continue to meet our goals. A guideline was developed that outlines the religious accommodations available to HWDSB students and staff.
We are also creating equitable school environments by identifying best practices in reducing bullying. Specifically, we are investing in restorative justice programs throughout HWDSB, confident that this is an effective way to reduce suspensions and expulsions, as well as cultivate respect within our schools.
Equity Leaders Learn How to Take Restorative Justice Beyond the Circle
When the term “restorative justice” is used in education circles, many educators will think of, well, circles. The best-known tool associated with the RJ approach is likely the blame-free, multi-party conversation in the round that lets the person who caused harm and the person harmed find a solution.
But it’s certainly not the only way to use RJ.
“I’ll be honest, most people in the Board will never do a full restorative justice circle,'” Sir Winston Churchill vice-principal Timothy Powell-McBride told an HWDSB Equity Leaders’ Workshop on restorative justice yesterday. “But I tell you: this has completely transformed how I deal with kids.”
Unlike traditional a punishment model, restorative justice deals with harm by focussing on the restoration of relationships. It includes the community in making decisions about how to move forward. It diminishes conflict, increases communication and has low recidivism rates, proponents say. Read more …
Reaching out for Safe and Caring Schools
At HWDSB, we have two classes for youth who are expelled or on long-term suspension. Housed at our Crestwood site and the King William Learning Centre, both are supported by a classroom teacher, educational assistant, the program social worker, a child and youth worker from the John Howard Society of Hamilton, Burlington & Area, and our Principal of Safe Schools.
We are pleased that expulsions and long-term suspensions are declining at HWDSB. The number of suspensions fell from 7,428 to 5,524 in the 2005-2009; expulsions fell from 1,489 to 556 during this period.
Our teachers provide individualized academic programs for students in both the elementary and secondary panels. Our social worker and child and youth work provide a social and emotional component for the program through the use of restorative justice.
This year as part of the Board-wide restorative justice training, we involved our expelled youth so that administrators and teachers alike could see, first hand, the impact that restorative justice can have on the lives of our students.
We were also able to reach out to schools that contacted us for assistance. We were proactive in visiting schools, speaking with staff, students and communities attempting to solve problems and put in place supports for our students before long-term suspensions or expulsions were required.
We are progressing in our implementation of the Ontario First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework. We know this is the case for several reasons.
First, we are offering more opportunities for students, staff and trustees to increase their knowledge and appreciation of contemporary and traditional First Nations, Métis and Inuit traditions, cultures and perspectives. Our Equity Department is leading this with conferences, community events and resources.
As well, our students’ voluntary identification is helping us collect data that will support improved student achievement in literacy and numeracy in our First Nations, Métis and Inuit population. It will also help retention rates, graduation rates, and the rate at which students are pursuing postsecondary studies.
There are other, specific actions, at HWDSB that relate to this implementation. We completed a draft First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy which was presented to Executive Council and the Policy Working Subcommittee in November, 2010.
We will hold an Aboriginal Arts and Culture Day on Feb. 24, 2011 at Hill Park Secondary School, with workshops for students and staff as well as evening events for our school communities.
Lastly, we are developing an information brochure for parents about the voluntary, confidential, self-identification process at HWDSB for our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.
In our Care, Treatment and Correctional Programs, we added two new classes in 2009-10, which brings us to a total of 31 classes.
One addition is the McMaster Children’s Hospital Child and Youth Mental Health Unit, which is designed to provide a treatment program for children and youth in crisis with a mental health concern.
Our teacher provides an individualized academic program for students ages 10 to 18 who have been admitted into the residential unit, as well as those in the day program. The teacher works with the student’s home school to coordinate treatment in a way that maintains as much consistency as possible in the student’s education.
A second addition was the Chedoke Health Centre Autism Intensive Behaviour Intervention Clinic. This is for children with autism ages five to 10. Our teacher provides an individualized academic program in a classroom setting in conjunction with each child’s IBI strategies.
A team of six educators from Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board secondary schools are forming a provincial-level organization to help foster the growth of Positive Space groups in Ontario schools.
A Positive Space “is an innovative co-curricular program that builds inclusive spaces” by identifying, addressing and transforming the ways that homophobia is expressed in private and public school spaces, they note.
As the groups increase across HWDSB, they have learning to share. The new Ontario Positive Space Teachers’ Association (OPSTA) will link teachers and the community to eliminate barriers in the formation of Positive Space groups, to help students, staff and the public in schools. Read more …