ATA concerned about mental health of displaced Fort McMurray students and syrian refugees

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WATCH ABOVE: The Alberta Teachers’ Association is asking the province for more support for all the students who have fled war torn countries and fires this year. The mental health concerns of both the displaced Fort McMurray students and Syrian refugees were topics at the annual provincial teachers' meeting in Calgary Saturday. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – May 21, 2016

Tributes poured in at the Alberta Teachers’ Association meeting in Calgary Saturday to those affected by the Fort McMurray fires, both for Fort McMurray teachers who helped students reunite with family and to the teachers who are now taking on displaced students.

The school year is now over in Fort McMurray, but Eggen told the crowd of over 450 at the Hyatt Regency in Calgary that he is confident Fort McMurray schools will be open again in September.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray principal hits the road on mission to lift students’ spirits

“We are very pleased with how all school boards across the province have accommodated  Fort McMurray displaced students. This has been a big effort to accommodate from all school boards and we’re very proud of how everyone is coming together, using this as an opportunity for school building and community building,” Education Minister David Eggen said.

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At least 500 children who were evacuated from Fort McMurray are now enrolled in schools in the Calgary area, but educators warn they will be needing more than just an education.

“Dealing with the displacement itself will have various forms of impact on students and teachers will be dealing with it and continuing to deal with each student as issues arise,” Mark Ramsankar, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said.

One of the resolutions at the ATA meeting calls for immediate funding for school-based mental health programs relating to trauma from the natural disaster.

“Teachers would be concerned that there is support for these mental health issues as they arise. Can I determine what each specific one will be at this point? The answer is no, because each year students come to our classrooms with various needs,” Ramsankar said.  “We want to see the supports being in place for the long term implications as we see them in our classrooms.”

In March, the chair of Calgary’s public school board said she was frustrated with the lack of funding available to help new Syrian refugee students, saying the bill to accommodate about 430 students had reached $3 million.

RELATED: Fort McMurray wildfire to have modest economic effect: feds

Education Minister David Eggen said the government has restored grants for English language learners to help with the adjustment.

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“There’s been some petitions by metro school boards to ask the federal government. The provincial government, we provide $5,000 or so per student for refugees students and we continue that on for a period of five years,” said Eggen.

The ATA is also asking the province for enhanced funding for refugee students to keep up with the demand.

“The government has been doing a very good job in terms of funding. School boards have been prepared; they have accepting refugee students in various times,” said Ramsankar.

Another resolution being discussed at the ATA meeting regards student learning assessments (SLA’s).  The ATA urged the minister of education to grant the authority to individual teachers to decide whether to use the diagnostic tool of student learning assessments and if utilized, when in the school year the SLA’s are administered and to whom.

The assessments have been piloted for two years with grade three students. They were eventually meant to replace provincial achievement testing for grades 3, 6 and 9.

The association said some teachers are feeling frustrated with the timelines.

“The implementation of the new exams. Who owns the data, how will we use it and will we be able to continue to inform teacher practice,” Ramsankar said.

“I know that teachers and schools were having some concerns about them, so I am working closely with the teachers as well as my ministry to make modifications to make sure that it’s working for everybody,” Eggen said.

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More than 400 teachers from every school jurisdiction around the province attended the Alberta Teachers’ Association annual representative assembly, which runs until May 23 at the Hyatt Regency in Calgary.

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