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Niagara schools taking nuanced approach to teaching current events

Niagara schools taking nuanced approach to teaching current events

The war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Black racism, the impact of residential schools — there has been no shortage of concerns or topics of reflection in classrooms the past few years.

In response, Niagara school boards said they have taken a nuanced and thorough approach in bringing discussions about current events into the classroom.

That means relying on the relationships between faculty and students, and giving teachers tools and space to determine the best option to create a safe learning environment, said Michael St. John, superintendent of special education and mental health and well-being for District School Board of Niagara.

“The teachers in our system really pride themselves on, and take care in, knowing each of their students … knowing their learning, knowing their background, knowing their culture, knowing a great deal about their family,” said St. John.

“We don’t go in to teach about Ukraine, we respond to the needs of the students and the questions they may have, some of their natural curiosity and some of their musings and thinking.”

DSBN said its system works to create a foundation and a balance when it comes to world events such as Ukraine or Black Lives Matter, using resources from mental health and well-being teams in combination with resources that come from its curriculum department.

But it’s about more than academics, with teachers learning to how to identify struggling students, and how to appropriately respond.

It may involve a phone call home, or bringing in a counsellor, either for an individual student or for the entire classroom, to work on resiliency and social emotional learning, “which is a big part of our curriculum for kids and their mental health and well-being,” said St. John.

“It really is going to be a mixture and a balance and it’s pretty fluid with regards to what can, and is, being presented to acknowledge and honour all of the kids in the class.”

Jennifer Pellegrini, communications officer for Niagara Catholic District School Board, said students are encouraged to come forward about Ukraine or other global events, with conversations from a faith-based perspective, “focusing on the need for humanitarian aid, justice, compassion and empathy.”

“Questions and conversations may focus on the politics behind the war, and the history of the region. They may also focus on the importance of critical thinking about the information students are consuming online,” she said.

Conseil scolaire Viamonde, the public French school board, said in an email when it comes to the response to current world events, it relies solely on curriculum provided by the Ministry of Education.

DSBN student trustee Salony Sharma said the past few years have brought about “so much discussion and uncertainty” but has created a unique environment to learn and grow, especially as a high school student.

“It’s not like you’re reflecting on history, you’re reflecting on current events and news happening in the context of our own lives,” she said. “You’re starting to form your own perspectives and viewpoints on these things and be experiencing them in real time.”

Sharma, who is in her final year at Westlane Secondary in Niagara Falls, said those discussions have allowed students to use the classroom as “a hub of different perspectives.”

She credited teachers for that freedom, and for encouraging student-led conversations.

“That lets us have a very open conversation without the pressure of the teacher’s opinion or how that might be perceived as a student in their class,” she said.

“To have those conversations helped solidify my own voice … and make me think outside my own privilege or my own bubble.”

Jennifer McArthur, Niagara president of Elementary Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said teachers use their professional judgment and knowledge of their students to determine how and when to respond to current events.

Some engage students through visual arts by creating a lesson of painting sunflowers, while another may include the Ukraine war as a choice for a topic on written reflection.

But it goes beyond the age or grade of the student and their development, with teachers considering students’ social-emotional needs to make sure they “feel safe.” They also take into consideration the amount of understanding or exposure to current events students may have.

“A teacher with students who are refugees would consider previous and potential trauma that may affect how students react to the topic of Ukraine,” she said.

“If a child has friends or relatives directly affected, their understanding will be vastly different from a student living in a house where it is not being discussed.”

Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation District 22 president Shannon Smith said teachers throughout the province engage students in ongoing conversations about current events as an opportunity to teach critical thinking.

“They engage students in ways that are pertinent to their subject area. Whether it’s learning traditional folk music from different countries or incorporating more inclusive novels in their English class, teachers present students with opportunities to expand their understanding of history and social justice,” said Smith.

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Current Events: Update on Missoula road changes, housing projects

Current Events: Update on Missoula road changes, housing projects

MISSOULA – A much talked about change two a pair of downtown Missoula streets and progress on housing are the topics of this edition of Current Events.

We talked with Missoula Current founding editor Martin Kidston to find out what could be happening on Main and Front streets in the near future.

“Yeah, that project is actually creeping along. It has come back on the books the last couple weeks. A little bit of history on that. Back in 2015 the city did a feasibility study on the potential for conversion of Front and Main Street into two-way traffic and the feasibility study actually found that the possibility was actually feasible,” Kidston explained.

A few years ago, they put that project up to bid for engineering and design and that project is at 30% design right now and that is expected to come to 90% design this spring, which shows some progress there. With that, they begin to search for a funding source. It’s a good time to tackle a project like that with the Infrastructure Bill that passed.”

“Some of the things that the project will do is obviously turn Front and Main Streets back into two-way traffic. And that impacts a number of intersections in the downtown area, including the intersections of Front and Main with Van Buren Street, the one intersection there with Front and Main where they come together with Orange Street, and also where Front and Main cross Higgins Avenue. All those intersections need to be reconfigured since traffic will be moving in both directions,” Kidston continued.

“The businesses are behind it, it’s supposed to be good for commerce. Their working with neighborhoods downtown to alleviate their concerns. We’ll see what the 90% design comes up with this spring for that project.

Meanwhile, a new subdivision might be in the works for the River Road area in Missoula.

“Last week the Consolidated Planning Board heard and approved on an 8-1 vote a small subdivision of 19 units and that’s off River Road on the south side. It’s spaced on 2.3 acres of property. That project is represented by IMEG,” Kidston explained.

“There is concern among the neighbors about the impact that the residential housing units will have on traffic, congestion. The infrastructure on River Road is in horrendous shape to use a phrase put by one person. There is concern about the impact. The rezoning request for that project now goes before city council. They will ultimately decide whether this project gets rezoned and permitted to move forward.

There has also been some movement on a housing project on Missoula’s scott Ctreet.

“That project is moving forward as well, and they plan to start laying foundations this fall which is a pretty quick timeline. They’re still trying to work on some details around parking and right of way. The price points are becoming clearer on what the town homes and condos and what the affordable part of the project will sell for. That’s really starting to jell, we may actually be tarting to see something yet this fall,” Kidston concluded.