Heritage Elementary School principal Collin Thomas was assigned to the Huntingdon-based school just one week before the start of the pandemic in 2020. After his first few days at the school, he caught on to a staff-led movement to find and implement a remedial and enrichment structure that would benefit all students.
“There was a need that was identified before I arrived,” says Thomas, of the three-year search for an appropriate response-to-intervention approach that would allow school staff to effectively identify and support students with both learning and behaviour needs. “It is an innovative practice,” affirms Thomas, who says it is essentially a different way of providing support to students.
Earlier this fall, the school trialed a 30-minute WIN period (which stands for What I Need) at the start of or midway through the day. This involved organizing students into multi-level or age groupings based on their academic and social needs. “As soon as we got word that we could operate without bubbles, we jumped,” says Thomas, who admits the pandemic influenced the timing for the rollout of the program. Public health guidelines were followed very closely within these groupings, and parents were advised of the initiative before it began, so that any concerns about mixing grade levels could be addressed.
The initiative is not a direct result of COVID-19, but it will help address some of the learning loss experienced throughout the pandemic. Looking down the road, the structure is also expected to change from one year to the next. “Targeting the needs of the kids will evolve as their needs change,” explains Thomas, who is especially interested in the flexibility of this type of structure.
He is also extremely impressed with the determination of the staff at Heritage. “Words can’t describe the fact that this staff is willing to tackle this,” he says, noting that change is always difficult, and that the teachers and staff were motivated to make this work despite all the changes already imposed by the pandemic. He also credits the staff for their vision in identifying areas within the school where practices can be strengthened.
The trial period was quite successful, and it generated several questions and concerns on the part of teachers. This was intentional, says Thomas, who led a professional development trip with four teachers to British Columbia to observe schools that have been successfully using such structures within their classrooms for years. “We wanted feedback from teachers,” he says, explaining that the goal of the trip was to bring home answers and new ideas.
“It is a big program that we have been working on for some time,” says teacher Julie Haché, who works in the learning centre and with special-needs classes. “We wanted to get a full picture before we put it in place,” she says, of the experience in BC.
The school was able to benefit from a John Killingbeck teacher/administrator scholarship to cover the costs associated with the trip, which took place in late November during the devastating floods that struck southern BC.
The team has since shared the information brought back from BC with the staff at Heritage, and Thomas says he hopes the program will be formally implemented after the holidays.
“We are doing this because all of our students deserve to learn at high levels,” he says, suggesting he and the staff at Heritage are looking forward to a winning start to the New Year.