Ron Bergeron is the District Principal who oversees the Community School Teams in Vancouver schools. We asked him to tell us about the key role the teams play in providing valuable before and after school programs for our students.
VSB: Tell us about the services Community School Teams provide to Vancouver schools.
RB: Last year, the Community School Teams (CSTs) were responsible for providing more than 3,005 programs to Vancouver students. Some of these programs are run during regular school hours but many often occur during out of school time (before and after school, during school vacations and on weekends.)
The teams work to meet the needs of all students but are especially concerned with identifying vulnerable students who need additional academic, behavioural and social supports. We strive to support the academic, social and emotional, and behavioural well being of students by providing purposeful programs and activities.
VSB: Who is in the teams?
RB: The Community School Teams are assembled into 12 hubs which are located across the city. Each hub includes a secondary school and associated elementary schools. There are two exceptions in the Westside of the city where there are two hubs with four secondary schools each.
Each hub has a coordinator, a teacher, and a youth and family worker. Hubs hire programmers to deliver the programs and we rely on incredible volunteers including high school students and students from post secondary institutions, such as Emily Carr University of Art and Design and Langara College to name a few.
VSB: What types of programs are offered by the Community School Teams?
RB: Our teams offer programs for students from Kindergarten up to grade 12. They range from after school sports, arts, recreation, cooking and friendship clubs to those with an academic focus including homework and reading clubs and family literacy programs.
All our programs provide a safe, structured and fun environment for kids during the hours of day when they would otherwise be on their own since their parents are at work.
Since our programs are run within schools it gives us a direct link to the student population. Students considered more vulnerable are targeted by teachers, counselors, and support staff in schools.
There is a plethora of services provided during the school day which focus on literacy and social and emotional skill development. Our CST teachers and youth and family workers involve these students in programs that provide academic support, such as literacy and skill development. Our teams also help students who would benefit from behavioural and social support programs.
VSB: What are some examples of the programs the Community School Teams offer?
RB: Types of recreational programs can include but are not limited to: sports, arts and culture, food and nutrition, environmental stewardship, global citizenship and leadership development.
Examples of social programs include: friendship and empathy groups, restorative justice work, anger management groups and cooperative games to name a few.
VSB: The transition into secondary school, which begins in grade 8 in Vancouver, is a challenging time for many students. Why is it important to focus on students during this transition period?
RB: It is sometimes difficult for students to move from a small elementary school setting where they have one classroom with the same teacher, to a large secondary school where they must take eight different courses from eight different teachers.
During the first year of secondary school students may face peer pressure as well as the desire to fit in and be a part of the school community. During this time, students are beginning to mature and they are questioning and experimenting and want to gain independence. Without support it could be easy for kids to fall through the cracks. Our Community SchoolTeams help keep kids engaged in positive and purposeful activities.
Our CST teachers work with grade 6 and 7 classes to help prepare them to transition into secondary school. They talk to students about the "survival skills" they'll need for secondary school. Since the CST teacher works in the elementary as well as the secondary school they keep track of the kids during their transition.
For example, at the Tupper hub our CST teacher works with all the grade 7 students in the spring when they are finishing elementary school and also in September when they enter grade 8 at Tupper Secondary. The teachers are a welcoming face, someone they know when they are walking down the halls in their new school.
Youth and family workers deal with the social and emotional aspects of students and provide a continuity of support. They also help provide referrals to outside agencies and programs for students and families that need extra help.
VSB: Student volunteers are central to the running of these programs - tell us about them.
RB: Our student volunteers generally begin being active in grade 10 and receive training opportunities to build their leadership skills. Volunteering and working for credit hours allows these students to explore their passions and gives them a sense of ownership over the program.
Student volunteers and those receiving credit hours experience a greater connection to the community. Most students will volunteer or work for credit hours with the CST for three years and some students have returned to be employed as staff after graduation.
During the summer months there are many opportunities for secondary students offered by both the CST and community partners (such as community centres and neighbourhood houses) to volunteer, work for credit, and there is even some paid work.
Summer programs, services and events differ from hub to hub depending upon community needs so students should check with their local CST to see what is happening in their neighbourhood.
VSB: Are the same programs offered in each hub?
RB: The scheduled programs offered in each hub are unique and depend on the needs of the neighbourhoods they are located in. Coordinators survey parents and students informally to see activities they'd like and they identify the needs in the neighbourhood by looking at the programs being offered at nearby recreational facilities and clubs.
We've developed partnerships with neighbourhood houses , community centres other organizations to identify the programming voids that exist and try not to duplicate or compete with each other.
Since the cost of living is high in Vancouver many parents are challenged to provide after school care for their children. We ensure that access to our programs is open to all students.
VSB: Who funds the community school teams?
RB: The Community School Teams are funded by an annual CommunityLINK (Learning Includes Nutrition and Knowledge) grant from the Ministry of Education.
In addition, our staff has developed more than 200 partnerships with community and government organizations. These partners help provide training opportunities for our volunteers, donations of food and services, and the use of facilities (ie. community centre pools and skating rinks). It puts that old adage to play that it takes a community to raise a child.
This Spring keep checking the VSB website for more stories on the work the Community School Teams are doing in Vancouver schools.