The staff and teachers at the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division have been preparing for the return to classes tomorrow in their schools.

"We've had a really exciting beginning," shared Director of Education for the HFRCSSD, Gwen Keith. "September first is just right around the corner, but we've been preparing for quite a while. We spent some time, senior management with our principals, in a retreat format, looking at what the priorities of the school division are, and really working on what it is that we can do to live through those directions."

Keith said the theme this year at their schools, including at St. Michael School here in Weyburn, is 'Keep Going with God'.

"So we have a set of branding tools that are put in every one of our schools, to really work on our Catholic distinctiveness, with certainly being very mindful of reconciliation and some of the deep work we're looking at doing in that area," she said.

"We had an opening mass in Estevan, which is a gathering of all of our staff, and so there we had an opportunity in the afternoon to really dive much more deeply into what the needs of our Ukrainian students," she noted. "They've got some very specific needs and so we really spent an afternoon just really looking at some of those challenges, and supports and spent time also with staff looking at inclusion in a bigger way, in a more practical way and looked a little more deeply at sexual diversity and what that was all about and how to support students."

She said they also spent a day just looking at the teachers' well-being and really trying to be very mindful of some of the questions that their staff have as they started school.

"Things like, we are in the second year of a ministerial interim plan, and so what does that look like as we're, you know, charting student progress for the year and what are some of those priorities," shared Keith. "We also had a day with our admin assistants down at the Board office, looking at all of the technical pieces that are needed as we move forward. So they're really busy so far."

She noted that while there are no current government restrictions in place, they will continue to make PPE and other germ-prevention methods available to their students.

In addition to being excited about the Family Resource Centre the HFRCSSD will be part of with the Family Place in Weyburn, and they'll also be increasing counseling availability for staff members.

"We're a working team, and we're trying to understand the needs of all of the different roles that we play in the school division. It doesn't matter whether you're a caretaker, bus driver, or secretary. Whatever your role, we're in this thing together and we're just going to make this the best year we can for students, and with an increased look at how to really wrap around families." 

How that is made real in the schools, she commented, has everything to do with their teachers.

Keith said their staff also had a treaty land entitlement recently, with teachers presenting the land entitlement, and looking at it in a number of different languages.

"That kind of activity could be done with students doing that they could have parents doing that, it's just always a way of saying I'm here and I have special gifts too," she explained. "So how can we work together in honoring the individual needs and still being a team to work through the ups and the peaks and valleys of the school year? So we really do have staff and student mental health and well-being very much at the forefront of this, but in a proactive way. So we want to build the conditions that can help us nurture and grow our students so it's exciting. I always just love this time of the year." 

She said she wishes everyone success as they return to school.

"There's always anxiety when you step off a bus, or step into a classroom, for both sides, from what's what's happening in the school, to the parents, and everyone else that is anxious for success and want that success and that's what we're all after, so I think really keeping open communication and trying to understand the other person's point of view is always the way you see it. There's another way of looking at it, trying to understand here before we automatically think we have all the answers. It's really what community looks like and communication in community is, to me, the best way of developing and cementing some long-lasting relationships, because there are always going to be challenges in the year, but the more we trust each other and work together, we'll get to the other side." 

Keith added that moving forward, working together is the most important thing for the HFRCSSD.