Central Alberta schools welcomed more financial support for students who have fallen behind because of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced $45 million to support Grade 2 and 3 students who are struggling to learn at a crucial age because of COVID disruptions.
Some additional money will also go towards helping Grade 1 students after a needs assessment is done on these students by next February.
LaGrange said these funds — amounting to $490 per student if help is needed with either reading or mathematics support, or $980 for students who need extra assistance in both areas — will allow schools flexibility.
Depending on local need, school officials can determine whether to hire more staff, breaking classes into smaller learning groups, or starting new numeracy or literacy programs.
As well, Grade 12 students will have the weight of their diploma exams reduced to only 10 per cent of their final mark this year, compared to the usual 30 per cent.
LaGrange said this should lower stress and anxiety among high school students who have not had much experience writing exams since the pandemic broke out, early in 2020.
The minister and Red Deer North MLA also promised to send rapid COVID test kits to schools that have outbreaks of 15 or more viral cases. Parents could then opt to test students without symptoms before sending them to school.
Dan Lower, associate superintendent of learning services for Red Deer Public Schools said the new measures are good news for his district, which already recognized that many students will need extra help to catch up due to COVID-related learning disruptions.
The Red Deer Public School Board had previously authorized that $1 million be made available from its operating reserves for extra learning resources for students who have fallen behind due to the pandemic.
Lower welcomed the additional government funds for students in lower grades.
Learning basic literacy and numeracy by Grade 3 is considered crucial to the later development of students, said Lower. Experts found “if you’re not reading at grade level by Grade 3, students will struggle,” so targeting this age group with extra help is essential, he added.
He believes many high school students did worry about writing diploma exams, which can determine whether they get into certain post-secondary programs, when they have little exam writing experience.
Reducing the weight of these exams for this year “gets them back into the habit of writing exams and takes some of the stress off.”
While there are currently no COVID outbreaks at Red Deer public schools, Lower said the availability of rapid testing is another tool that could prove useful if cases rise once again.