IROQUOIS – The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up how schools adapt to new challenges in education. While many changes have happened throughout the province’s education system, there were also local changes to South Dundas’ only secondary school. The Leader sat down recently with the new-ish principal and vice-principal of Seaway District High School to see how the school year has been going so far, and for a bit of an introduction.
“We’re excited to have kids back in class,” said Seaway Principal Trent Carter-Edwards. “We’re really thrilled to be in the position where we can have kids back in the face-to-face setting where we can engage them in hands-on learning.”
Adjusting to the new school year with pandemic restrictions still in place, he said that students have done well this year.
“The kids are respecting the masking policy, the directional markings, bringing their own water bottles. It’s become the new ‘norm’,” Carter-Edwards said. “I’m really impressed with how our kids have responded to 18 months of this. It’s become the way we do school now.”
Having worked in schools in Cornwall for 20 years, he said he loves the rural community of South Dundas.
“I really like how close-knit the community is, that sense of family,” he said. “I am amazed at the generosity of our community. For a smaller school like Seaway, there is a lot of financial support given to kids going off to university, college, trades, and the world of work.”
Seaway has one of the lowest secondary school enrolments in the Upper Canada District School Board. That presents a challenge to offering a wide-variety of in-person courses. That said, that doesn’t limit a student’s ability to follow any path they want at the school.
“We offer courses to students to pursue all pathways, be it university, college, apprenticeship,” he said highlighting some of the programs including the Specialist High Skills Major programs.
He also highlighted the school’s access to online programming, which has improved because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has shown us that online platforms work very well for some, and not for others,” Carter-Edwards said. “But it has greatly improved the fluency of kids in a digital era and also that of the teachers.”
With any new administration, changes and improvements always occur. One well-received change Carter-Edwards has already made is to bring back monthly character recognition awards for students.
“I’m a big believer in having kids recognized for their successes,” he said. “Every individual has a chance to be successful in whatever it is they do and I think it is important to celebrate success in every way, shape, and form.”
The awards focus on character traits, citizenship, and demonstrating good character rather than academic or athletic successes.
“I think we’re all capable of demonstrating good character, supporting one another, and being a good citizen,” Carter-Edwards explained. “I think it’s important that kids feel accepted and that they recognize that there is something for everyone here.”
Feeling accepted in school is a challenge he has taken on at Seaway by identifying the school as a safe space and a welcoming space for students.
“Whatever background [students] come from, however they identify, who they choose to be as an individual, I think it’s important that we have a safe and accepting school environment,” he said of the school. “This should be a place where kids want to come in, they want to learn, they’re excited to see their teachers, and they feel good about being at school.”
Carter-Edwards arrived at the school as Vice-Principal one week before the first pandemic shutdown of the school system in March 2020. Appointed acting-principal in Fall 2020, a permanent appointment as principal happened just after Christmas. At that time, Raena McMullin joined the school as the new vice-principal, just as a 10-week shutdown began after Christmas.
“We were closed for 10 weeks, open for six, and back to closure,” she said of the 2020-21 school year.
Now back this fall, McMullin said being at a smaller school like Seaway is a positive.
“I really like how close the community is,” she explained. “Our ability to build those relationships because this is a small school. There’s more engagement, we get to know the kids.”
Returning to school, McMullin said that staff are working to help kids get reengaged with in-person learning with the pandemic restrictions still in place.
“We’re seeing it now where some kids are struggling to get back into the learning environment,” she said. “The quadmester system works well for some students. But for others, sitting in the same class for two-and-a-half hours a day is a challenge. I understand that.”
McMullin’s teaching background includes special education, which is something she hopes to help build up at the school. Another interest though is in the arts and getting students to be themselves outside the classroom in things that interest them.
“I love the arts. The art opportunities – drama and band. Just to be able to do all those things again,” she said.
Returning to class this fall, both Carter-Edwards and McMullin said that having students have good experience returning to school was their focus.
“Kids have gone through a really topsy-turvy 18 months, it’s good to be back,” Carter-Edwards said.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader