The Big Picture

Albert Community School is a place where students do more than learn curriculum-based content. As a community school, that means that the school serves the community, rather than the community serving the school. The school reaches far beyond students and into family and community interests. This difference results in a different mindset for teaching. The teachers create lessons and expand job expectations in order to serve the students’ needs.

Sometimes it can mean raising engagement by bending curriculum in order to improve attendance. Other times it means constructing nutrition units that can be realistically implemented by an eight-year-old with little parental support. Or it can stretch to duties of a cab driver for students who can’t make it from home to school and back again. These are just a few examples of the extra work that teachers do in order to serve their students.

When educators reach out to their students, a funny thing happens, students reach for their teachers. They value the knowledge being taught and look forward to each lesson. The respect that the students have for their staff is evident in Albert School. Students and teachers joke around and share a passion for learning.

In Albert School students are not learning in traditional ways. Teachers design lessons to fit their students best learning abilities. They include activities for visual learners, hands-on learners, quiet and loud learner’s, independent and dependent learners. They learn through technology, stories, field trips, and much more creative ways that I have yet to see.

Most of all, teachers and students share in a community that thrives and continues to grow. Teachers instill values of respect and kindness, skills that reach far beyond the front doors of the school. At the end of the day, Albert Community School serves the community in ways seen and unseen, and I hope when I become a teacher that I will be a part of the service of a community.

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An Engaged Classroom is a Happy Classroom

At Albert Community School there are a range of students who attend classes. Some are only there for short periods of time, others grow and thrive in the surrounding community, and some are not proficient in the English language. In my time at school I noticed a common theme, no child is neglected because of their individual strengths and weaknesses. A sense of love and family flows through each staff and student, making the classroom an exciting place to learn.

As any school in Saskatchewan, there are specific curriculum requirements that each student is required to learn. How that knowledge is taught to students is at the discretion of the teachers. After weeks of observing different teaching styles among a range of grades I noticed that teachers catered to different learning methods. Each child learns their best differently, and the teachers create multiple activities to promote learning.

A common practice among teachers was ‘BRAIN’ groups. Students were divided into five different groups and rotated between five activities that each stimulated a different type of learner. There were typically flashcard stations, digital stations, visual and hands on stations, paper practice stations, and new concept stations. These different stations interested the children and allowed the teacher to work with a small number of students when teaching new topics.

After speaking with the staff I gathered new information regarding the types of learners. At Albert Community School teachers must adapt a specific teaching philosophy that emphasizes engagement over curriculum teaching. I noticed many times that teachers would ask children topics that interested them, rather than following the curriculum to a ‘T’. Teachers addressed internet trends and world news regularly in order to promote digital consumer awareness as well as positive citizenship.

The importance of student engagement stems from alarming facts announced by Bronwyn Eyre, the overall graduation rate had increased about one percentage point to 76.5 per cent over the previous year.” in contrast to, “[t]he graduation rate for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students also increased to 43.2 per cent in 2016-17, from 41.9 per cent in 2015-16.” Albert School is home to a large population of Indigenous students, and with such a large gap in graduation teachers are trying their best to keep students in school in order to create future opportunities for them in their adult careers.

The students may not be reaching all criteria outcomes, but their enthusiasm and appreciation for classroom learning is the most important.

The Difference Between You and Me

Diversity lies in all aspects of life and recognizing differences among peers is a great place for a school to start. Celebrating diversity is the next step. At Albert Community School the celebration of diversity is everywhere. A large population of students at the school belong to  ethnic minority groups, including Aboriginal people. Albert School works hard to equally represent and respect all students that go to school.

It is no secret that Canadian society is riddled with racism. Ignoring this problem is not something that Albert School is participating in. In order to promote diversity and equity among ethnicities the school focuses on reconciliation. They have community movie nights that recognize the traumatic effects of colonization. The school also promotes the restoration of Aboriginal culture by offering Cree language classes and having people from the Aboriginal Community come in to engage students in traditional Aboriginal storytelling and traditions.

Apart from racial diversity, Albert School also recognizes diversity in gender. In classes students are taught about the differences between females and males, and also the similarities. Respectful and inclusive practices in regard to gender are carried throughout the school. From school rules about personal space to respect for gender differences.

One part where the school falls short is support for the LGBTQ+ community. There is no GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) nor any type of support group for those that do not fit within the gender binary. Though I was assured posters that stated that this school is a safe place were enough in regards to sexual and gender diversity, I feel as if I’d like to hear from those who identify with non-binary labels.

Albert Community School works very hard to ensure students are treated with equity and feel included. I commend all staff and students for taking the time to participate in reconciliation, learn about diversity, and recognize the issues at hand in Canadian Society. Continue to work hard and never stop the progress that this school works hard to push forward.

Inclusive Education and Diversity

Our differences are what make us stronger. This saying is applicable in everything from political speeches to the classroom. Not only is this saying nice to tell your students, but it is important to act on those words. Valuing diversity is important in a school setting as it allows for each student to feel included and represented. In Albert Community School the school and staff, do not fall short on diversity.

Upon walking up to the school I see a sign that honours the Indigenous land that the school sits on – Treaty 4. When walking in the front door I spot a bulletin board housing student artwork. The hallways are lined with diverse images from many cultures and countries. The library windows are lined with books on relevant topics such as bullying and cultural appreciation. I have had the privilege of experiencing the Pre-K classroom which holds representation from different cultures in the form of miniature teepees and traditional Chinese clothing. The building that constantly surrounds the students fosters inclusion because they are able to learn in a place that appreciates their culture.

While meeting the staff members of Albert Community I recognized many cultures being represented. Staff members appeared to be of European descent, Asian descent, and the school also has twelve staff members of First Nations and Metis heritages. The diverse set of faces allows students to see themselves in their teachers and support staff which encourages respect and appreciation.

It is easy to spot diversity in visible characteristics. Visual observations do not require much work to get the answer. It is the hidden forms of diversity that are not always at the forefront of every school’s visual appeal. There is a plethora of different identities that each student may live with such as religious differences, mental illness, political beliefs, ancestral ties, immigrant status, learning disorders, and sexuality and gender differences. These types of differences should be represented just as much as visible differences.

Differences are what makes us stronger. Whether they be clearly visible or held within we, as educators, need to recognize the ways in which each student is different from the rest and find a way to represent it in our schools. This will move schools towards a more progressive and inclusive nature.

The Extent of Teachers and Their Knowledge

Living in a country as diverse as Canada, schools should reflect a variety of cultures and ethnicities that their student’s belong to. With a large student to teacher ratio in Regina classrooms, how are teacher’s honouring different life experiences and ways of knowing to give each child’s culture representation in the classroom? The staff and teachers at Albert Community School have done a phenomenal job at figuring out the cultural demographic within the community. They have incorporated authentic knowledge and resources into the learning environment to honour different ways of knowing.

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via Google

Upon walking into Albert Community School this past week, I noticed that they were preparing for Day of Pink which is an initiative for anti-bullying that can be learned more about by clicking on the link provided. Along with the decorations around the school and classrooms, resources were pulled from the school library for the staff to use in the classroom. I gathered from staff that this sort of support was not exclusive to Day of Pink. Along with these resources picked for the staff I also learned that each teacher serves on a group or council every year directed at different issues that affect the school and students. This provides great opportunities for teachers to participate in group thinking to solve the problems surrounding the learning environment. Through this collaboration teachers are able to have in depth insight into the different areas that the school needs the improve.

With this type of support I can imagine that teachers who know nothing about a specific culture or way of knowing would have resources within their school to learn. Along with in school supports such as library resources, colleague support, and group insight, the teachers also turn to the internet. Blogs and online messaging is a big part of the teacher lifestyle. Connecting with others and sharing information is how many of the teachers at Albert Community School are able to stay on top of the growing demand from students and parents to expose the students to a multitude of different ways of knowing.

Sitting in a classroom is a great way to learn, but for many of the teachers at Albert Community School they have not stepped foot in a lecture hall since they achieved teaching status. Despite this, their bank of knowledge continues to grow. We know that learning can take place in and outside of the classroom. Teachers are utilizing a plethora of resources on and offline in order to continue growing their own professional knowledge. The information learned in an education lecture is generalized for the entire teaching profession, but through individual learning the teachers are able to personalize the knowledge that they want to learn to fit their specific circumstances.

For example, a teacher may be tasked to teach a student who suffers from s specific learning disorder. This teacher may then turn to the student’s previous teachers for insight and suggestions, the parents to make realistic goals, and the internet for ideas and advise.

All of the teachers at Albert Community School attended similar university courses and filled much of the same requirements. Yet, they each have a unique approach to educating and have built an individualized professional portfolio of knowledge. Each took their careers in different directions and began utilizing the resources surrounding them. It is through this in depth analyzation of the teachers at Albert Community School that I learned teachers are as diverse as their students.

Albert Community and the Surrounding Community

Schools are often a reflection of the surrounding community. Everything from the exterior of the building to the school mascot plays a part in depicting the community that the school is in. It is no secret that Albert Community school is placed in a low to middle income neighbourhood. The school sits in Regina North Central which houses almost 50% of Regina’s Aboriginal population according to the 2011 Canadian census, and is located closely to the Piapot Urban Reserve.

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The message board in front of the school

The richly Aboriginal community is reflected well within the school. The emblem posted on the sign outside the school features a medicine wheel and feathers which are typically associated with Aboriginal culture. The exterior of the school features artwork which directly reflects the community. The inside features books, posters, and languages that are linked directly with Aboriginal culture. The sense of community within the school altogether reflects a place that students want to be in.

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The weathered sign reads ‘Albert School’

The slogan of the school, “Keeping Community Together” gives me an idea that maintaining the link between school and community is mainly the responsibility of the school. After speaking with a few of the staff I was informed of the low parent participation in their children’s education.

After my time in the school I decided to drive around the neighbourhood. I witnessed many of the students were reluctant to leave the school premises. After an hour of school being out many of the students were still roaming the streets in freezing temperatures in nothing more than a hoodie.

After arriving home I ventured onto the online site. I had been on it briefly before, but this time I went on with the motive to view every category on the menu bar. On first appearance, the site looked clean and organized, but as I read the posts I noticed that for the most part it hadn’t been updated since the summer before school started in the fall. Most menu items I clicked on took me to an outdated or blank page that stated that construction was taking place. I was disappointed that the online portion of the school was obviously not a priority.

The surrounding community of Albert Community School is home to low income families living in less than ideal situations. It is inside the school that support and academics are provided to each student in each unique scenario. The school provides breakfast and lunch programs to support students who are not lucky enough to come to school having eaten. Teachers often taking on the roll of educators, guidance counselor and in some cases becoming a type of parental figure to their student’s in order to provide a positive school experience for each student attending Albert Community School.

The Students and Learning Environment at Albert Community School

It had been awhile since I had set foot in an elementary school. When I made the choice to take secondary education as opposed to primary or middle years I didn’t think I’d ever have to go to a primary school. It was a surprise to me when I was assigned to a pre-kindergarten classroom. Along with surprise I also felt confused, upset, and dare I say it – happy. I felt that because of my familiarity with this age group and even younger from my part time job in child minding and youth programming at the YMCA that this classroom would be a breeze. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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First Day in the Classroom

When I say it’s been awhile since I’d been in an elementary school, my reaction to the setup of the classroom really shows it. This classroom was packed full with child sized furniture, a loft, a small food preparations area, and a teepee. My minimalist sense of style and comfort clashed with the overstuffed classroom. Although the children noticeably appreciated a classroom that had any educational trinket or toy that they could ever desire, I felt claustrophobic in the tight space and knocked more than a book or two over with my uncoordinated feet.

The children, aged three to five, trickled in after the lunch bell rang. At least, I think it was the lunch bell. It’s low tone and quiet volume seems small in comparison to the harsh alarm that rang in my ears long after the bell had quit ringing in my elementary school. We started with a couple students who came with their older siblings. Albert Community School is placed in a community that is not very affluent, and I found over the course of my afternoon that authority is often lacking in the young students’ lives and older siblings take on a parenting roll very young. This in turn affects the students as their home life does not fully support academic success.

The teacher of this classroom opened with pointing out the importance of routine and professionalism as it aids in the students building respect for authority figures. In consequence to this important rule I had no opportunity to build significant connections with the students. The school removed recess from their school days which was another barrier to having informal conversations with the young students in the pre-kindergarten class.

This experience is a harsh contrast from my own schooling. For starters, my school did not offer a pre-kindergarten option. Although I did attend a Pre-K it was private and for only a handful of hours in the week. When I did attend school my experience was much different. My school participated in a school wide recess. As well, I had the privilege of having a parent drop me off in the morning and pick me up after school. I lived in an environment where my life at home helped to nourish success in the classroom. Albert Community School is definitely a whole different experience than what I thought, but I am glad I have the opportunity to be placed here so that I can have a wide variety of practice in different situations.