The addition of nearly 200 new support staff in schools across Nova Scotia is being referred to as part of a transformational shift in how education is delivered in the province.
Those hired to take on the roles of behaviour support teachers, autism specialists and child and youth care practitioners among others, will soon land in their new positions within schools, many of whom are coming straight from a two-day training session recently designed by department staff.
“We met on three separate occasions and we tried to come up with ways that we felt we would be able to provide professional learning opportunities for the teachers that were newly hired,” explained Debbie MacDonald who works as a student services consultant in the Strait Regional Centre for Education.
“Our main focus was to come up with a simplified version that would give them an entry level coming in and to give them some practical suggestions and strategies that they would be able to take and use immediately when they go back to the classroom setting.”
The Halifax Regional Centre for Education hosted the orientation on Monday and Tuesday.
It gave the support staff a chance to learn about real-world situations and discuss how to make a positive effect on young people’s lives from educators that have actual experience as support staff.
“They are positions that have been added, we’ve always had a few but this has certainly been a greater influx,” said Cindy Giffen, who works in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
“Being able to ensure that they have the most appropriate strategies, the most effective interventions,” she said of the training being provided. “All of those pieces will be contributing to the children having more success and being able to stay in school more effectively.”
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Twyla Dean is a new child and youth care practitioner in the Chignecto-Central Regional Centre for Education who took part in the multi-day training session.
She is eager to begin her work in the coming days which she says can make a big difference in the educational experience for both students and their families.
“I’m really excited because I am looking forward to working with the children and the behaviour support staff and the administration in the school,” she explained. “And working with the children and connecting them to the community, working also with their families.”
“Just being able to connect them to resources they may need inside the school and as well as outside in the community.”
Jacqui MacIntosh will be doing double-duty this year, filling the role of behaviour support teacher as well as vice-principal.
In her mind, the two roles are very much related and will complement each other.
“We may have students who struggle with math, what do we do? We help support them whether in a small group or individualized. We do the same thing for students who don’t have those social skills yet developed,” she explained of her support role. “We work one on one.”
“I get to know their story, they get to know my story, it’s very relational,” she said.
“It takes that time to spend with them to get to know them, to get to know their parents, make that communication, to bridge that gap of both home and school,” MacIntosh explained. “Then we work together to help make their child better in school.”
The Department of Education says around 90 per cent of the positions have been filled to this point and expects the rest of the hiring to be completed by the end of September.