A Call for Sex Education Reform

A Call for Sex Education Reform

Motion:

  1. I move that the Board of Trustees lobby government to revise the existing sex education curriculum. Consideration for a comprehensive curriculum would include, but not be limited to, a program of study that is tailored to a variety of student orientations, be grounded in research, include the concept of consent, relays valuable information and preventative measures against the transmission of sexually transmitted blood borne disease along with prevention of pregnancy. Finally, the Government of Alberta will set out provisions to assure that the delivery of such information is consistently delivered across Alberta in all publicly funded schools.
  2. That in partnership with Edmonton Public Schools we lobby the Alberta Government to review and revised the existing sex education curriculum based on the merits noted above.

Rational:

There are a multitude of reasons as to why revisions are required to our current sex education curriculum.

  1. As a participant in a student lead conversation on sexual orientation at the University of Alberta, it was highlighted that current sex education classes serve little to no value for students who identify as LGBTQ. Like all students, it is vital that these individuals are provided sex related information that allows them a greater understanding of their bodies and issues that would pertain to their orientation.
  2. A great deal of research is now available that has changed our understanding of the world and our bodies. It is important that all students be afforded research based information that supports good health (both physical and mental) and is prevention focused. Students need to understand their physiology and limits. Too many young students are ending up in hospitals due to a lack of understanding surrounding one’s physiology and associated inaccuracies in information.
  3. Disease prevention is pivotal in the promotion of healthy students, healthy populations and hence, improving the economic strength of our province. Currently, sexually transmitted blood borne diseases (STBBD aka STIs) are at epidemic levels in Alberta. Public health officials are calling for better education to help curve the spread of these infectious diseases. It is also important to note, that in some cases, diseases such as gonorrhea are becoming increasingly resistant to drugs with 33% of these cases no longer responding to the medications used for treatment of this disease. The degree to which this is successful is very much tied to consistency and competency of instruction across Alberta. This in and of itself merits review and recommendations for effective implementation.
  4. Tailored programming relating to disease transmission is also urgently needed. Data highlights that some groups within our population are at far greater risk of contracting an STI versus some other cohorts. Just as one example, 1.4 million individuals are currently reported to have HIV in North America (a conservative estimation given that not all cases have been diagnosed or reported). We must empower at-risk groups to make healthy choices. This begins with knowledge and understanding of risks, one’s body, disease transmission and preventative measures.
  5. Consent is a critical issue that has been largely overlooked in our curriculum. Students need to fully understand what consent looks like. Students need a comprehensive understanding that coercion or guilt is not appropriate. They need to learn to stand up to peer pressure. Likewise, they need to understand fully what consent does mean and under what circumstance. Lastly, they need to understand the legal implications. Far too many young students (largely male) end up on the wrong side of the law, left to deal with the dire consequences of a snap decision. Conversely, on the other end of this spectrum is the emotional and possibly physical damage that the victim will suffer. Often these scars last a life time.

In summary, all persons have the right to fully understand their bodies and understand options that can help protect their health; both physically and mentally. Current gaps in the sex education curriculum have the potential to place students at unnecessary risk. Knowledge is the key to prevention and thus to strong physical and emotional well-being. A lack of information can lead to severe consequences from both a health and legal stance. The time for action is now.

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New World Order

So, it seems that 10 years in as an elected official and I still am learning the ropes. Tonight, I was to learn that a board corporate can remove an elected trustee’s motion from the agenda by a simple majority vote, rendering their views silent to the constituents they were elected to serve and to whom they are accountable. To date, I was under the impression that democracy would not only allow but would demand that those whom the public has charged with representing them would grant a trustee the absolute authority to bring any issue into public board for discussion, regardless of views held, rational behind the motion or stance on a given issue. Apparently, this is not so or at least not with our board. This begs the question, am I wrong? If so, I would like to gain a better perspective of how such a process works to support ones elected voice in a society built on democratic ideology.

To be clear, I have previously voted to have items removed from the agenda. However, this has been limited to only two scenarios:

  1. when the mover of the motion makes the request to have their own item removed.
  2. when the matter is related to land, labour or law. As per legislation, these three types of matters cannot be conducted in public board. If or when an item of this nature has been inadvertently placed on a public agenda, it is the duty of all Trustees to ensure that the item be moved to an in-camera meeting to avoid breech of law.

 

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Recommended Revisions for the new Education Act:

Elected Trustees are governed primarily through legislation defined in the School Act. Government is currently updating this legal document and is set to release a newer version, the Education Act, shortly. As final edits to the Education Act are still under way it is an opportune time to request any final additions and/or revisions that would serve to strengthen content that offer improved legal guidance for elected trustees.

Recently, some trustees found that the current legislation surrounding, “perceived conflicts of interest and conflicts of interest” as defined in the School Act no longer seem to be aligned with the general publics nor the Ethics Commission’s perceptions surrounding this matter. In fact, our board was recently provided two opposing interpretations on this matter; one from our boards in house legal bound to the content in the School Act and one from the Ethics Commission who is bound by other legal interpretations related to this matter. These mixed opinions, illustrate the need for this matter to be examined and rectified. Clarity and direction to abstain from voting would be explicitly stated in relation to this matter for trustees within the new Act.

As public opinions evolve so must legislation. Both perceived conflicts and conflicts of interest are of concern to both public and private sectors. Scrutiny and interpretations of the law are constantly subject to societal perceptions; perceptions that change over the course of time. As such, the new Education Act should be aligned with current business and publicly held interpretations related to perceived conflicts and/or conflicts of interest. The Government of Alberta would be well served in updating those sections in the Education Act that pertain to trustee voting in relation to both perceived conflicts of interests and conflicts of interests.

It would also be beneficial for the new Education Act to direct boards to engage in a mandatory practice of reviewing and discussing as a Board Corporate the contents of  Superintendent contracts. This would be for those years in which either a renewal of the contract is due or in years where a new contract is being voted on. As this is a critical function of boards, all elected trustees should be required to take part in this function and under no circumstances should this function be deemed unnecessary to preform as a Board Corporate. To be clear, this is not the same as having individual trustees look at the contents of the contract alone. This is a call for collective discussions on contractual contents. It will allow for trustee input and feedback, serving as an avenue to recommend additions and/or deletions in a formal process; one that yields the collective scrutiny over a critical board responsibility. Along these lines, a review of related policies should also support this action.

Motion:

  1. I move that the Board of Trustees send a letter to the Government of Alberta requesting that changes be considered for the Education Act in relation to perceived conflicts and conflicts of interests. Specifically, trustees whose spouse or relative(s) hold district positions that report directly to the Superintendent should be excused from voting based on a conflict in the new Education Act.
  2. I move that the new Education Act will include statements that require all Board of Trustees to do mandatory reviews of Superintendent contracts. These reviews will necessitate that board corporate discussion on the contents within the contract itself take place prior to the renewal of any said contract or prior to the implementation of any new contract.

Future

Notice of Motion:

That the scope of powers of Ethics Commission be extended to include school boards.

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Strengthening Board Governance and Enhancing Student Health.

I believe that the public has entrusted me to make well-informed decisions on behalf of their children. As stated in my last blog, Health and Education are intricately woven. One does not happen effectively in the absence of the other. Also true, is that we don’t get to decide what issues place students at the greatest risk. Sometimes these matters are touchy from a theological stance, but they require attention none the less.

We have many issues that continue to plague our students as sighted through the many different Canadian data banks and registries. Obesity rates continue to soar. STI infections are at alarming historical highs, anticipated gains in mental health outcomes have not occurred. These types of health-related concerns bare immediate attention and demand policy and program designs that are built on evidence to help support meaningful and targeted implementation that yield cost-effective and substantive impacts.

In designing policy at the Board level, we need to probe and ask essential questions. We must assess that which is effective and in which context versus policies that don’t work. As such, I am seeking to enhance my abilities to drive change through my graduate studies in Public Health; change that offers tailored community public health programming and services, enhanced awareness of issues identified via epidemiological data and surveillance information along with policy practices that work to support intended outcomes.

 It is well known that Boards benefit when members have backgrounds that support a board corporate makeup consisting of individual members with expertise and education that is both varied and high level. In the words of one of Canada’s leading Business professors known for his work related to effective Board Governance, “Corporate Boards are highly functional while Public Boards tend not to be. The nuance difference is in the level of expertise  and knowledge board members come to the table with”.  (McKillop, I., 2017). 

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Advancing Student Health!

The intricate relationship between health and learning is indisputable. Gone are the days where education is solely about catering to the ABCs of learning. The connection between the determinants of health and learning outcomes calls for Educational Governance that is viewed in all its capacity, at all times, and in all realms, through the lens of health and well-being.

As a seasoned Trustee I have initiated many motions and have celebrated their successful implementation knowing that on some level a difference has been made. The scope has been varied ranging from fiduciary matters to improved communication to health and wellbeing. Yet if I take a scan, the great majority of my work has centered on those matters that directly affect the health and wellbeing of our students and hence, learning.

More and more I find that my passion to see healthy happy students has played itself out in the form of motions, advocacy and policy changes that center on health prevention and promotion. This emphasis started early in my career as a Trustees with my first motion in 2007 addressing air quality in and around school zones. This led to anti-idling zones for all Edmonton Catholic Schools. Since that time, I have continued with my goal to drive change, seeking strategies to improve or save lives as evidenced by my calls for, fentanyl and vaccination awareness, motions for age appropriate training to support students in reporting sexual assault, mental health initiatives, and calls for a vaccination database. Of course, on the other end of the successes are those areas that will continue to need support such as programming and services for vulnerable LGBTQ and FNMI students. Still, I can’t articulate in words how grateful I am that my path has afforded me the opportunity to impact the quality of another person’s life.

I have asked myself where is it that I want to focus in terms of trusteeship and ultimately, what will best support me in achieving the desired outcome? Clearly, my passion takes me once again to health. So how do I continue to grow so that I can continue to advance the numerous health needs of the district? In contemplation, I have enrolled into the Masters of Public Health at the University of Waterloo as it offers the program online, allowing me flexibility in fulfilling my Trustee obligations.

This program offers a broad and comprehensive approach to health prevention, including mandatory business management and policy development coursework. I can’t imagine what I could have done to better advance my skills given that this encompasses all the essential pieces to effective trusteeship ( business and policy) all within the scope of my greatest passion…improving student lives and outcomes through health promotion.

The learning curve has been fast and furious. Free-time has  been replaced by long hours poring over data banks, reading research papers, and contemplating their application to advancing health through varied designs. None the less, this has come to be a gift that is immeasurable. I would need a book to write on all the information that has been transferred into my arsenal in just a few short months. But suffice it to say, Public Health boils down to two words, health prevention.

As I continue on my own path as a life long learner, I am looking forward to bringing a new level of sophistication to my role as a governor and policy maker for students. Research skills yielding evidence based data will undoubtedly lead me to advance solid initiatives;  identify system needs and gaps; lobby for targeted programming and supports; and advance policy. All this is encompassed within a vision to improve learning and quality of life for this generation of students now and into their future.

I am proud that my work has already resulted in one tangible for the district since embarking down this path. ECSD has now started a BOK’s program at Frere Antoine School. In short, it is a collaborative between Reebok Canada, researchers at the University of Waterloo and school jurisdictions to introduce a morning/or reverse lunch/ exercise program with the potential to quantify the impact of morning activity on learning.

Based on some of research and data analysis that I have recently under taken I will be advancing matters related to sexual education, physical health and mental health. Data for Alberta indicates some troubling trends. There is much to be done if we are going to make inroads that improve student outcomes as they relate to learning, determinants of health and quality of life.

If you are a parent in my ward and would like to learn more about this program or what I am currently wanting to tackle in terms of student health and wellness, please join me at the Riverbend Second Cup on April 10th, from 7-8 pm.

Finally, a huge thank you to my constituents for allowing me the opportunity to serve you and your family.

Warmly,

Vice-Chair Marilyn Bergstra

 

 

 

 

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My Proposed Motion to add Mental Health and Wellbeing into Curriculum

One of greatest issues facing our population is the ongoing struggle to support mentally strong and emotionally healthy citizens. We must, with urgency, focus efforts towards prevention and the achievement of optimal emotional health. One such avenue is through education. Curriculum can serve as a mechanism to build a comprehensive understanding and a multitude of avenues to support mental health and emotional wellbeing. This can play a crucial role in relation to prevention, personal safety and overall quality of life.

Opportunities for gained proficiency by students to keep themselves or others emotionally healthy is key. Important to this understanding is the recognition that students are empowered when they fully understand what it means to need help, where and how to access support and methodologies for achieving positive outcomes. In kind, the accumulative result of knowledge, understanding and awareness lends itself to increased personal resiliency and strategies to facilitate improved mental health. Collectively, this serves not only the person but also facilitates avenues for students to support friends in need.

In keeping with all of the above premises, the optimal outcomes are achieved through a progressive curriculum that builds in its capacity over the course of a student’s education. Methodical design, in an environment that promotes safe and open discussions, also serves as an effective avenue for breaking down long-held misconceptions and the many stigmas that have historically plagued efforts to advance mental health and emotional wellbeing.

“While the specific content of lessons will be determined by the specific needs of the cohort we’re teaching, there should always be an emphasis on enabling pupils of any age to develop the skills, knowledge, understanding, language and confidence to seek help, as needed, for themselves or others.” (1)

Research suggest that puberty is a precarious time with enhanced mental health vulnerability. Being aware of strategies to offset emotional challenges increases one’s ability to reduce or even circumvent the onset of a mental health crisis. It is important to also note that although a significantly higher percent of mental health issues arise in during adolescence, mental illness and challenges with emotional wellbeing can and do arise prior to age 10. Consequently, the argument to introduce curriculum in the early years is further supported. In keeping with this notion, curriculum would be developmental in its design, supporting the abilities and understanding of the students as they advance throughout the K-12 educational system.

“According to data collected by the Nuffield Foundation, in 2013, 80,000 children and young people in the UK were clinically depressed; 10% of these were under 10 years of age. They also found that 290,000 children and young people in the UK had a diagnosed anxiety disorder, and one in three of these was under 10.2.” (2) Although the following data was attained via British research, one could speculate that findings across Alberta would be similar in frequency on a population basis. 8% of Canadian youth describe their mental health as poor.

It is well know that Alberta continues to struggles with soaring health care costs and limited access to mental health professionals. Thus, initiatives to prevent and improve mental health make sense on a number of levels. Be it quality of life or financial implications, a need for healthy productive populations builds a case for preventative mental health initiatives.

Through a curricular approach, students would gain an understanding of positive behaviors and associated strategies to incorporate into their personal arsenal to support them in the development of emotional wellbeing. Critical as well, is the ability to formulate healthy thoughts, behavioral patterns and strategies to facilitate the seeking of supports for either themselves or others. This gained knowledge and understanding equips the student for improved mental health and emotional wellbeing both now and long into the future. Swift action in implementing support through curriculum is urgently required in efforts to strengthen mental health and emotional wellbeing outcomes across this province.

 

I have attached a supporting document for your reference that may serve as a valuable resource to gain insight and perspective on my proposal (see attachment links on this site).

https://www.pshe-association.org.uk/curriculum-and-resources/resources/guidance-preparing-teach-about-mental-health-and

Footnotes:

  1. PSHE Association, March, 2015, Preparing To Teach About Mental Health And Emotional Wellbeing, https://www.pshe-association.org.uk/curriculum-and-resources/resources/guidance-preparing-teach-about-mental-health-an
  2. PSHE Association, March, 2015, Preparing To Teach About Mental Health And Emotional Wellbeing, https://www.pshe-association.org.uk/curriculum-and-resources/resources/guidance-preparing-teach-about-mental-health-and
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Public Board March 15th/2016-My Comments

There is no question that sexual orientation and gender expression has become one of the most prominent social issues of the decade. The struggles of those who don’t fit into traditionally accepted gender roles can be overwhelming at best. Much of their struggles stem from negative and critically held beliefs in this area. Public understanding and acceptance is still in need of reform and evolution. Pervasive myth, fear and a general lack of understanding continue to hamper efforts to love and embrace all on the basis of character rather than how one chooses to identify as.

This reality is evidenced by feedback I myself received from stakeholders. Sadly, some of the commentary I received was so over the top, so full of bias and hate that I questioned my own safety at times. I can only imagine that if people could go to such lengths to articulate such hate and ignorance towards me for supporting standalone Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy, then how far they would go to express similar viewpoints with those who do not conform to their view of the world.

I was dismayed to see individuals and groups using platforms that I saw as exaggerating the intent of the government’s guidelines; guidelines solely designed to support vulnerable children and youth. Clearly, this extreme rhetoric has done nothing to help support our transgender community. Transgender youth need community dialogue that is fact based conversations rather than preposterous, melodramatic composition. Not only has such commentary hurt so many, it has been counterproductive in creating a more tolerant and informed society. Playing on fear is an attempt, at best, to accelerate ones agenda; an agenda lacking a foundation of fact and rational thought.

Education is knowledge and the road to compassion and understanding. Undoubtedly, more education is needed as it pertains to understanding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as it relates to our transgender community. Along these lines, I am glad that the issue has been brought to the forefront by government as it has led to much needed debate and conversation. Although societies tend to evolve slowly, it is only through dialogue that we create a knowledge base and begin to drive positive change that will challenge fears and the existence of pervasive myth.

They say it takes a village to raise a child and I would argue that it takes a team to support our most vulnerable students. A recent study by the ATA highlights that a majority of teachers feel that they lack the necessary education to fully understand the needs of our LGBTQ students. I am overjoyed to hear that our ATA is taking steps to address the concerns noted by their members in relation to needs of our LGBTQ students. Research suggests that in order to support students, staff require similar support. To this end our ATA local has started a GSA for its members. Our administration has hired staff to deliver diversity training, to support the formation of student groups and to provide other services to support students. We are moving in the right direction.

I want to relay that as the board worked through this inclusive policy, GP #14, it was done through a lens that focused predominately on issues relevant to our transgender community. In terms of an inclusive policy, I believe it is a good one but it is by no means sufficient, in my opinion, as a replacement for standalone policy. Also, my concerns presented previously on this issue continue to exist; that being the challenges that arise when we try to be all things to all students. Simply put, this is not always possible or realistic. Given this, then what do we do? It is my position that we must support those who are in greatest need. Equitable must preside over equal. To this end, we must do all that we can to support those members of our LGBTQ community, particularly in relation to sexual orientation and gender expression as they are a highly vulnerable group. One need not look too far to view statistical evidence to support the harsh reality for those who fall outside the norm in relation to sexual identity and expression. In a recent study by the City of Edmonton, 50% of Edmonton’s homeless youth are LGBTQ. Additional research suggests that suicide is as high as 57% for individuals in the transgender community.

It is my opinion that:

Given the vulnerability of our transgender youth, given that inclusive policy cannot serve two opposing positions at any given time, given that inclusive policies are proven less effective at reducing bullying for LGBTQ students, given that this policy does not, in absolute terms, adhere to the full intent of the government’s guidelines, given that it does not provide teachers with clear, consistent direction and hence protection, given it does not guarantee the fullest measure of protection and privacy for our transgender youth and given that this is intended to replace a standalone policy that could address all the afore mentioned shortcomings… I will vote against this motion.

 

 

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