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Aspen View chair reflects on 2021

New school, elections, COVID-19 and more top the list
2021 Nikipelo_Candy_AVPS Chair_File_WEB
Aspen View Public Schools board chair Candy Nikipelo said while the school division dealt with COVID-19 again, they were also able the celebrate many things like the groundbreaking for a new school in Smoky Lake, the hockey academy at Edwin Parr Composite in Athabasca and more.

ATHABASCA — As the world draws near the end of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, some things are starting to feel old hat, but few people have the weight of education on their shoulders too. 

For Aspen View Public Schools (AVPS) the last two years have been a learning experience for staff and students alike figuring out how to navigate education in a pandemic. 

“It was definitely a COVID year, and we just wanted to keep the kids in school,” said AVPS board chair Candy Nikipelo Jan. 5. "I can't commend our staff enough to make learning still happen and it wasn't a normal year by any means for the kids, but it was somewhat normal, and I think that is something to praise and to celebrate in wake of what the entire world was facing.” 

At one point, thanks to some erroneous information said by premier Jason Kenney during a press conference, Athabasca and Edwin Parr Composite (EPC) made provincial if not national headlines as the hotspot for COVID-19. 

“That’s something we like to forget, but it is what it is,” said Nikipelo. “Our numbers at the time, per capita, were newsworthy, but now people don't even blink an eye at stuff like that ... because so many communities have reached that plateau, sometimes more than once.” 

One of the enduring things coming out of trying to use the best practices and keeping the students safe was the staggered start for larger schools with about half the grades arriving one day, the remainder the next then on the third day all grades. 

“In our bigger schools, none of our small schools do it but our bigger schools absolutely enjoyed giving students more of a one-on-one start and teachers have a little bit more control the first day and I think that'll be one of the things that does stay,” she said. 

Then there is the proposed curriculum which has been under fire from the moment education minister Adriana LaGrange announced it. 

“Curriculum, that was and still is an ongoing thing we dealt with last year. The government asked for feedback, of course, and so our feedback included push back as well so, that is still forging ahead for next fall and we are fully engaged with every opportunity that we can right from our parents, and our students through our school councils to the provincial organizations that we belong to,” said Nikipelo. “We’re doing whatever we can and of course our teachers are highly involved with the ATA (Alberta Teacher Association), and we are doing our best to try to guide government in making a curriculum that the entire province can be proud of and put support behind.” 

And while some of the courses have been pulled back for reevaluation, it’s not enough she said. 

“We were pleased with social studies (being pulled back) because that was the course that did have the most problems and people pointed out the biggest difficulties in, but we just think it's too much too soon,” she said. “Our belief as the board is we wish they would do one subject at a time, that was our suggestion that they slow the process down.” 

The second part of the curriculum is the lack of resources. 

“We have some schools that are triple graded and the task of a singular teacher who is triple graded to have to produce a new curriculum and multiple courses is onerous,” said Nikipelo. “When do they have time to prepare? School goes till the end of June so, what, do they spend their July and August preparing and getting these courses ready? And still we've been told that there aren't any resources. So that's the other big thing, resources are still being developed.” 

The Oct. 18 election brought one new face, Cindy Lutz, and one familiar face, Elohne Chizawsky, who had served previously losing to Tom Mykytiuk in the 2016 election. Mykytiuk resigned just months before the end of his term. 

“We had our fall elections so, that's always new and exciting,” she said. “Minor changes on our board but not a whole bunch. But you know, that's always exciting for the community.” 

Then there are the things to celebrate; a new school, the EPC hockey academy, and the Great Beginnings Preschool at Whispering Hills Primary School (WHPS). 

“We had our sod turning for a new school in Smoky Lake. So that was very celebratory for us, and we look forward to that,” said Nikipelo. “And then another celebratory thing was the start of our EPC hockey Academy. That was a really proud moment for us being a small school division. Our vision, right from the start when the (Athabasca) Multiplex was built and we were able to get our high school confirmed (beside it), there were lots of plans for that kind of thing.” 

For 2022, Nikipelo said keeping an eye on the financials is always a priority as is meeting with municipal partners across the division, something started a few years ago and has proven successful in building relationships and then the issue with bus insurance is still high on the list. 

“We've started our initial advocacy with the government over that,” she said. “We're trying to support our contract bus drivers as much as we can and that's going to be an ongoing thing as well.” 

The only foreseeable black spot is the viability study of Rochester School, which should be completed by the end of February or early March, but it is also not a given the school will be closed. 

“We're fully expecting the community to rustle up support and try to find ways to increase utilization of their school.” 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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