Eye on Education: Standing strong in pandemic

Once a week, the Lethbridge Herald publishes a column written by a superintendent of one of five school jurisdictions in the Lethbridge area. This week’s column is authored by our Westwind superintendent, Darren Mazutinec. 

There is an old Japanese proverb, “Nana korobi, ya oki” which means “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” In my mind, this proverb can easily represent the COVID-19 journey we all are experiencing as our previously comfortable and routined lives have been dramatically altered in the last six months. I’d like to focus on the “...stand up eight” part of this proverb. We are one month into our new school year, and I would like to publicly recognize and thank everyone who has played a role in getting our students back in our classes and continuing with their learning. 

Across southern Alberta, I’ve witnessed first hand the hard work of school division leadership teams, local trustees, school administrators, classroom teachers, educational assistants, school secretaries, custodians, and bus drivers who are “standing up eight” as they continue doing their part to make our schools safe, functional and compliant. I also want to highlight and recognize the hard work, effort, and tough decisions that have been made by the leaders in education and health in Edmonton. To be entrusted to make the countless decisions we’ve seen from our provincial and local leaders is no easy task in our current environment. 

In the past four weeks, it has been heartwarming to see our classrooms full of students again. I have thoroughly enjoyed being in the schools and hearing our hallways filled with chatter and laughter, and watching students spending time safely in our gathering areas. It’s been equally fun to visit with teachers and witness them once again begin building those unbreakable bonds with new groups of students. From experience, I know that these teachers’ influences will extend well beyond the school year and impact students throughout their lifetime. I am so grateful for the opportunity we have once again to provide students with all that public education offers.

While we have seen many positives connected with our return to school over the past several weeks, we have also experienced some challenges. Perhaps the most difficult elements for our students, school administrators, and district leaders have been working through emotionally charged issues with parents surrounding public health guidelines. Most of our parents seem to understand and accept the guidelines schools must implement and follow to keep students safe and remain open. We recognize that there are some controversial issues connected to school re-entry planning and some parents have differing views about what school divisions should be doing. Within our society, there are appropriate channels and means by which members of the school community to share their thoughts with provincial leaders. This is the beauty of democracy.

There is little doubt that these are uncertain and unprecedented times, and every person connected to education is doing their best to make decisions in students’ best interests.  We are all working extremely hard to provide students with a safe and complete educational experience while carefully following the instruction given to us by our provincial leaders. For us to be successful in our efforts, our parents and school community’s support is paramount. 

There is little doubt that the last six months have created challenges for everyone and knocked many of us down seven times or more. Our shared goal is to ensure that we will always have our schools fully open to students all year long and provide them with the best education possible. Let’s all do our part to give students every opportunity to succeed by supporting our school division’s plans as they operate under provincial guidance. I believe in the resiliency of our Southern Alberta school communities. I believe that we have, and will continue to “stand up eight” when times are tough.