With attendance down and students managing the challenges of a third academic year disrupted by a global pandemic, stakeholders from across the Cree education system gathered this week to move forward with a recovery plan.
The Cree School Board held its first School Committee Assembly since 2015 on May 25-26 near Ottawa.
"We have learning gaps that have been identified. We have children who have now gone through three years of an incomplete, in-person school year," said Sarah Pash, chairperson of the Cree School Board.
While the board doesn't yet have full data from the spring semester, and some schools fared better than others, attendance was down in the fall semester around 30 per cent, said Pash.
It's something we are very concerned about. - Sarah Pash, Chairperson Cree School Board
"It's something that we are very concerned about, because when you look at education research, a 10 per cent absenteeism rate puts a child at academic risk," she said.
There were several priorities identified during the assembly, which brought together parents, elders, local elected officials, school administrators, school commissioners and others.
Improving parental engagement was one big priority identified, said Pash.
One way the board is trying to do that is through the Mozaïk Portal, which is a tool for collaboration and communication between teacher, school administration and parents, said Pash. The board started using it a year ago and hopes to have it available across the territory by the end of the school year.
Local school committees have also made a renewed commitment to reach out to parents locally, find more ways to bring them into the school activities and celebrations, and hold local education assemblies.
School from a Cree holistic standpoint
"There was a lot of discussion about parent engagement and attendance … and how we were all going to work to engage parents effectively," said Pash.
Another priority identified was creating deeper ties with Miyupimaatisiiun committees, which are local committees created by the Cree health board in the early 2000s to look at wellness from a Cree holistic standpoint.
"Over the pandemic, it's really become very clear that our education system has to be a part of the recovery, a part of healing from this pandemic," said Pash.
"Not only the trauma that was caused by the pandemic in terms of stress and anxiety and mental health issues," said Pash, but also the more long-term impacts on academic and employment performance possibilities both now and in the future.
"So there's a lot of real work that we need to get down to," said Pash.