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'We need to speak up'

While area school divisions and teachers are taking their time to look at the draft K-6 curriculum that was released on March 29, there has already been much discussion around the contents of the curriculum, including an education rally held in St. Paul last Thursday.

LAKELAND - Although many school divisions and teachers are taking their time to look at the draft K-6 curriculum that was released on March 29, there has already been much discussion around the contents of the curriculum, and encouragement for parents, teachers and all Albertans to send feedback to the Government of Alberta.

"Curriculum is at the core of education and defines what students are expected to know and understand in each subject and grade," reads a statement from St. Paul Education board chair Heather Starosielski. "As a division, we are just reviewing the draft curriculum now and we plan to participate actively in all engagement opportunities over the next year, including the online survey."

On Thursday, a group of people stood outside the St. Paul Education office, speaking out against the curriculum.

“We need to speak up," said Sakwiskwew (Loretta Cardinal), one of the main organizers of the education rally. She, along with others in attendance, believe more Indigenous content needs to be included in the curriculum, and that the current draft is a violation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

Sakwiskwew believes treaties should be introduced at a young age.

“I feel sad that children are only going to learn about treaties in Grade 5, and the treaties are what really built this country," she said, speaking to the group that had gathered.

St. Paul Education says it is "strongly" encouraging all stakeholders to participate in the public input portion of the draft curriculum, which can be done online.

"This is a way to have your say in what Alberta students will be taught and learn how the current draft was developed," according to Starosielski.

Saddle Lake Cree Nation councillors Pam Quinn and Darcy McGilvery were also in attendance at the education rally on Thursday, speaking about their dismay with the draft curriculum.

Quinn stated her mother-in-law was just five years old when she was sent to a residential school, and that she believes young children can be taught age-appropriate content regarding residential schools younger than what is being proposed.

“Teach them the truth," said Quinn.

McGilvery echoed some of the same sentiments, and added that he believes leadership needs to take concerns to a higher level.

“This is not acceptable for our children," said McGilvery.

Despite the concerns that exist around the draft curriculum, St. Paul Education is encouraged to see a focus on literacy, numeracy and practical skills, including computer coding, budgets and public speaking.

"At the same time, we understand there are some concerns with the Social Studies curriculum, with respect to diversity, religion, and Truth and Reconciliation. St. Paul Education fully supports the TRC Call to Action to make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and the contributions of Indigenous people to Canada a mandatory education requirement for all students, starting in kindergarten," according to the statement from Starosielski.

Piloting of the draft curriculum is set to begin in the next school year, across the province. While the school division first said St. Paul Education teachers would have the option to participate, the division has shifted that approach. 

"Last week, we said that St. Paul Education teachers would have the opportunity to participate in piloting the draft curriculum should they choose. However, since that time we have received considerable, concerning feedback from parents, teachers, and other valued education partners about the overall draft curriculum and specifically components in the Social Studies area," reads an updated statement from St. Paul Education. 

As staff return from spring break this week, the division will now work on collecting more feedback about the draft curriculum from teachers, school councils, and other school divisions.

"Of course, we will be listening closely to feedback provided by parents not only in our own division, but from across the province. A final decision will be made in the upcoming weeks if we will participate in only aspects of the pilot curriculum or choose to not take part at all. This decision will also take into consideration the tremendous pressures COVID has placed on our staff and community over the past twelve months," reads the statement.

Public input on the draft curriculum is expected stay open until the spring of 2022.

Lakeland Catholic School District (LCSD) is taking a similar position, and plans to take time to look at the document before commenting on the draft publicly. 

"We are taking our time to carefully review the draft K-6 curriculum so that we can provide thoughtful feedback to the province. We will also be discussing this topic at the board's Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting later in April to review validation and next steps," said Amanda Wildman, Communications Officer for LCSD.

ATA response

Leon Ward is the president with the ATA Greater St. Paul local #25. He says the 2021 Alberta K-6 curriculum is a lengthy document, and will take teachers some time to review.

"Teachers in St. Paul Education are presently on spring break, and have not yet had the opportunity to discuss this document," he said, when reached for comment on the document, March 30.

"While there does appear to be some trepidation being expressed on social media, it will take some time to provide an in-depth view on the details within the curriculum document itself. The ATA has expressed concerns with the lack of consultation on this curriculum, which unfortunately leaves many teachers, myself included, seeing this document for the first time," says Ward.

He says that once teachers return from spring break, they will be able to review the document, and the organization will have some perspectives to share at that time.

"At this time, teachers in our division have simply not had the time or the opportunity to study and respond to this curriculum document in an appropriate manner. We would not be doing our students justice if we rushed into commentary without doing our own homework first," says Ward.

The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) responded to the draft curriculum last week, saying it would be undertaking its own independent review. 

“Teachers understand the readiness of young students for different pieces of content and how to bring curriculum to life in the classroom. Our Association and its members are best positioned to provide advice on the successful implementation of new curriculum. To develop a curriculum without incorporating a grassroots, classroom-based understanding of how students learn could set our students up for failure," said Jason Schilling, ATA president.

Schilling also expressed concern about the curriculum being piloted in the next school year.

“We still have a lot of pandemic ahead of us, and our current research shows that nine out of 10 Alberta teachers are expressing concern about piloting a new curriculum during these uncertain times. What was released today is barely a plan, and certainly not a plan for success," he said, last week.

*This story was updated on April 6 at 2:30 p.m. to reflect a second statement from St. Paul Education