The current role of school councils was established by the Ontario government in 2000-1 when it took steps to ensure that parents, through their school councils, would have greater influence in their children’s education. Regulations confirmed the advisory role of school councils and stated that their purpose is to "improve student achievement and enhance the accountability of the education system to parents." (see Ontario, Ministry of Education, School Councils: A Guide for Members, at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/council/council02.pdf)
The exact role of Councils is open to debate and ranges from fundraising to school-parent communication. What is clear is that they have a role and, depending on the school, may be quite active, vocal or both. On this topic see the recent article by Ottawa Citizen reporter Mike Pearson at http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/School+councils+communication+with+parents+should+trump+fundraising+report/3760680/story.html
I read other school's newsletters and websites - they keep me up-to-date on what's happening in the neighbourhood - they're typically posted on school websites. While I know there is a large umbrella organization - the Ottawa Carleton Association of School Councils - I prefer to take an approach that is direct and closer to home.
What are school councils in our neighbourhood doing? What is your school Council doing that you really like? There are some great ideas out there and many parents who work really hard to make our schools a better place.
I'd like to initiate a bit of a dialogue about what Councils can do. To kick-off, I'm going to share a few of the ideas I've found. I'd love to receive from feedback from parents of children at the other schools in the neighbourhood.
Have a Snowball Target
The rationale for the targets is simple, but to the point "Hilson school has two new snowball targets. Students take turns throwing snowballs at them. Why did they put them there? For the students to throw snowballs at. The two snowball targets are on the south fence. Students are only allowed to throw snowballs at the targets for safety reasons."
Aim for a Representative Council and High Parent Attendance
Sounds obvious but....in many schools less that 1/10 of families have even 1 parent in attendance.
To address the challenge Devonshire's council decided to host a pizza and movie night for kids on the same night as school council meetings. Older children help babsit and far more parents are available to attend. Brilliant!
Make sure Children Have Food
Again, sounds basic but....Devonshire keeps cereal, milk, toast etc. on hand in case any children come to school in need of breakfast - this can happen for a wide variety of reasons and parents can let the school knows if their child might require the extra nutrition. This is particularly important for schools with very early starts.
Make sure Children eat their Food!
Have children from the older grades act as lunch moniters.
Both my school aged boys have gone through periods when they haven't eaten anything for lunch during the day (and a variety of parents, particularly of boys, commented on similar experieinces). When asked, the boys told me they "didn't have time" - not true of course, but.....When I went into my son's grade 1 class at lunchtime I realized why he wasn't eating. It was loud, everyone was talking, no one was sitting in their seats and it just wasn't a "mealtime" environment at all. While a teacher was floating from class to class, it wasn't enough supervision.
I've talked with a few parents at a variety of other schools (Devonshire (again!) and Hopewell) and they say the lunch moniter program works well. The older student calms things down, the younger ones tend to look up to the lunch moniter and enjoy the company of an older student. If something really critical (I have heard allergic reactions mentioned) or outrageous happens there's someone who can call the teacher.
Host Fabulous Fundraisers
Some examples (a few of which are very new) include:
- the Gingerbread house fundraiser at Devonshire,
- the Hilson Fall Foodie Fest,
- the Chuchill School "Kidzone" shopping experience,
- the Much Music Dance-a-thon at Broadview
Find other ways to raise money:
Partner with a local business for mutual benefit. If you mention Devonshire Public School at the Collected Works bookstore on Wellington, they will give 10% of your purchase to the school in support of the school's refurbishment of the primary yard. Collected Works hopefully gets more people buying locally at their store as a result. Win-Win.
Apply for a Green Apple Grant worth $1000 from Metro Stores http://www.greenapplegrants.ca/. A variety of other Ottawa schools have already participated and details of their projects can be found on the Green Apple website.
School's are not islands on to themselves but part of our very vibrant and family oriented communities. They don't have to go it alone, nor should they. If there are synergies to be gained from partnerships with external service providers, take advantage of them. Before, after or lunch-time activities held directly at a school reduce traffic, maximize time and encourage both fitness and extra learning. This isn't at the expense of the schools and doesn't take precedence over school activities but can be a welcome addition to broaden some otherwise great offerings by our teachers.
- Dovercourt Recreation Centre runs a twice-weekly "Power Hour" of fun physical activities at Broadview for the primary students. This supplements the variety of teacher-led extracurricular activities that are also available. The classes are low-cost and are particularly popular through the coldest winter months when there are fewer yard activities.
- Yoga classes and a chess club are offered at Devonshire by external service providers. Fees are low and students sign up for 8-week sessions.
- Several Ottawa organizations have programs specifically designed to be run in schools - either before, after or during the school day. These include Radical Science (a branch of Ray's Reptiles), Mad Science and Starr Gymnastics.
- Baobab Tree on Piccadilly is open to discussing group drum lessons with schools. http://www.baobab.org/.
- Photography (from providers such as Dovercourt which have cameras readily available from their own programming) and art classes for primary students are other options that seem particularly suited.