UGDSB looks to take proactive approach with new learning support initiative

'We want to use this to build a program that we're very hopeful we can continue and sustain:' Sovran

GUELPH – The Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) is launching a new three-part program to support students in elementary and secondary schools, something the board is hoping to embed into its system for the long term, director of education Peter Sovran says.

In February, the Ministry of Education announced it was providing funding to school boards to support learning recovery initiatives.

UGDSB was allocated just under $4 million through the ministry’s Priorities and Partnership Funds, which is geared towards summer programming, reading intervention programs and student success initiatives.

The board is launching a phased plan focused on student success and intervention, to provide support to students facing learning gaps caused by the pandemic.

“We’re really thankful for this funding because it allows us to do some really significant work,” Sovran said.

As soon as the funding was received, Sovran said the board started planning how to utilize the funds while maximizing support for students.

“We want it to be data driven,” he explained. “We want to use the information [and] the data that our teachers in our classrooms have on their students and how their students are performing.”

The plan, he explained, will focus on students with the highest needs as a result of the learning disruption caused by the pandemic, with a focus on literacy and numeracy needs.

It includes specific programs and supports for elementary and secondary, divided into three phases:

  • phase one will begin this spring and run until the end of this school year with a focus on reading intervention for elementary students and support for students struggling in their current courses in secondary;
  • phase two takes place in the summer with a literacy/numeracy camp for elementary students and summer learning strategies courses for secondary students; and
  • phase three runs Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, again focusing on reading intervention at the elementary level and supporting students struggling in secondary courses.

Supports and instruction will be provided using a blended approach, utilizing in-person and virtual/online opportunities.

“What’s really exciting about both elementary and secondary is we want to use all of this to really pilot something that we want to continue beyond December,” Sovran explained.

“We don’t want this just to be a short-term fix, a short-term program … we want to use this to build a program that we’re very hopeful we can continue and sustain.”

He noted the program will be built into the school day.

“The reason for that is because we want to use and leverage the expertise and the skills of our teachers,” he said. “They know their students best.”

Another important part of running the program during school, Sovran explained, is to ensure it’s equitable.

“Some students and some families just wouldn’t be able to take advantage of staying after school, whether it’s transportation or other commitments,” he acknowledged.

One of the requirements of the funding is that programming begins April 1, Sovran explained, and in the meantime the board will be doing additional hiring.

He said the board is looking at hiring 20 to 30 teachers in the elementary panel, and upwards of nearly a dozen or so in the secondary panel.

Schools will determine which students have the greatest need based on a combination of report card grades and in-class assessments at the elementary level.

For secondary students, it will be driven primarily by in-class assessments.

Sovran emphasized the programming will allow the board to take a proactive approach in supporting student’s success.

“That’s really what we’re excited about, is that it allows us that opportunity to be proactive, as opposed to ‘here are a number of students who didn’t get their credit,’” he explained.

He added it’s evident that with the disruptions of the past two years, students have lost opportunities to have additional learning supports.

“Without question, the pandemic has had a significant impact on students, on families and on our staff’s regular ability to draw for these additional supports,” he said.

“So we’re really excited and really appreciative of this additional funding right now.”

Schools will reach out to students and parents/guardians if this additional support is available.