Central Okanagan Public Schools officials countered anecdotal concerns expressed about the declining welfare of students in the public school system caused by stepped-up public health restrictions.
The latest round of restrictions in response to the spread of the Omicron variant led to a group of individual parents voicing their concerns at the Jan. 12 board of education meeting during the public question/comment segment.
The comments struck similar tones – why are schools shutting down for a variant producing symptoms akin to a common cold; absenteeism caused by isolation requirements with positive COVID test; encouraging children to be vaccinated when so few are actually requiring hospitalization; stress imposed on students; how mandating staff to be vaccinated is discriminatory; and what indicators trustees will look to when deciding whether or not to impose a vaccine mandate on teachers and support staff.
Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools superintendent/CEO, responded that school districts face challenges presented by the Omicron variant outbreak provincially.
“It is a challenge for us but for this particular (variant) wave we receive direction from the ministry of education on steps we have to take to keep schools as safe as possible,” Kaardal said.
“In our view, we have done a good job managing this over the past 22 months…and the four schools I visited (Wednesday) all reflected a positive tone despite the restrictions.
“That is not to say some students have been impacted negatively, but I suggest parents connect with their school administration and counselling staff and express those concerns about their kids and we can see how to work through that.”
The dual credit program connecting high school students to potential career pursuit post-secondary options is about to expand in a new direction.
An early childhood education partnership has been struck between Okanagan College and the school district, set to be launched in September 2022.
Like other dual credit initiatives in 20 programs with OC and specifically engineering at UBC Okanagan, students will be able to begin accruing post-secondary course credits and experience prior to graduation from high school, giving students a head start in their given vocation of interest.
OKM Secondary music teacher Megan Frederick was recognized by school trustees for being a recipient of a national award for teaching excellence.
Frederick was cited for her success in mobilizing students around music and for promoting Indigenous music and culture.
Speaking to the board, Frederick said COVID has created some obstacles in the areas of the performing arts, limiting the ability of students to connect with audiences musically.
“It has been a little tricky but we have managed to put out video productions, connect with seniors by performing at retirement facilities and Christmas shows, and we have a Valentine’s Day project of crooner love songs for care home residents who can tell their own personal love stories between songs,” Frederick said.
Trustee Charlotte Desrosiers commended Frederick and her students for “bringing joy to others who have been isolated…I really commend you on that.”
Also receiving national award recognition with Frederick, and previously recognized for their efforts by the board of education, are École Kelowna Secondary science teacher James Strachan and early childhood educator Chantelle Colthorp.
Overcoming adversity is often a characteristic of success in the high school sports arena, and two volleyball teams were acknowledged by trustees for their perseverance.
The École KSS senior boys’ volleyball team recently won the provincial championship, while the school’s senior girls’ squad won bronze at their provincial finals tournament.
Led by coaches Mike Sordaro, Brady Ibbetson and Steve Manuel, overcome past playing setbacks caused by COVID and the November atmospheric river floods that cut off access to the Lower Mainland for both teams to compete in their provincial tournaments.
Fundraising efforts enabled the two teams to fly to Richmond for their events. The senior boys were further hampered when team leader Sebastian Manuel broke a finger in preliminary tournament play.
“He was probably the MVP of the tournament until he was injured,” said Ibbetson.
But Sebastian continued to support his team enthusiastically from the bench as his teammates rallied to win the gold medal.
It was noted this was the first AAA volleyball championship ever for a Kelowna high school team.
Other team members include Kian Bos, Aiden Currie, Hudson Farrell, Max Gainey, Sam Jablonski, Oaklen Kowal, Gavin Margerison, Manuel Olliges, Walker Sodaro, Maxim Storozhuk and Tyler Valuck.
On the girls’ side, the team suffered a disappointing loss in the semi-finals but showed the mental resiliency to regroup and put that behind them in winning their bronze medal match.
The team is coached by Kelly Hettinga, Samantha Temme and Jason Friesen.
“Your team moved mountains to reach the finals and almost got to the top, but it’s important to remember you won your last game…while playing with great sportsmanship and class,” said Kevin Kaardal, school district superintendent/CEO.
The team members are Calista Cencig, Hannah Friesen, Kai Forster, Mikki Greene, Abby Hettinga, Taryn Hope, Kierra Lidstone, Tenny McCarthy, Makenna Marble, Hayley Schroder, Victoria Shultz, Ryenn Schutz and Sofia Vicaretti.
The board of education has thrown its support behind a $15,000 grant application to the TD Friends of the Environment program by École Casorso Elementary.
A school committee of teachers, parents, parent advisory council and Indigenous advocates have developed a proposal to repurpose a section of the school fields as an outdoor learning space, which would include a seating area, a shade structure, trees, bermed area and working gardens with pathways set up to connect the space uses.