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Under the Northern Lights - May 11, 2022

Edwin Parr

The Board welcomed Alyssa Bucyk from H.E. Bourgoin Middle School to the meeting. Ms. Bucyk teaches Grade 6, as well as music and band, and is the Board's nominee for this year's Edwin Parr Award, which recognizes outstanding first year teachers in Alberta.

Trustee Roy Ripkens was on the committee that reviewed the recommendations from school administrators and interviewed all of the candidates for NLPS. He noted that Ms. Bucyk gave numerous examples of how she addressed the challenges of teaching.

"It was clear she is a natural teacher with intuitive insight on how to approach children and make learning meaningful and fun," he said. 

All Edwin Parr nominees from Zone 2/3, which includes NLPS, will be honoured at a banquet in Edmonton on May 27. Two nominees from the zone will be selected as award winners.


Good News Items

  • Trustee Mandi Skogen commended the drama students at Cold Lake High School on their production of Trap. She said the students did a fantastic job and it was great to see so many people attend and support the students.

  • Trustee Debra Lozinski congratulated all of the ATA inductees and NLPS retirees who were honoured at the recent staff celebration in Gledndon. Trustees remarked that it was great to see the first year teachers and retirees celebrated together and thanked the ATA for partnering with the Board to host that event. 

  • Vice-Chair Garry Kissel attend the recent Friendship Stew event at Glendon School. He noted the event was originally started by a Grade 2 teacher at the school and has now grown to include the whole school.

  • Board Chair Karen Packard thanked H.E. Bourgoin Middle School for the opportunity to flip pancakes and greet staff at the recent staff professional development day.

  • Superintendent Rick Cusson congratulated Cold Lake alumnus Erin Walker on receiving the Queen's Golden Jubilee Citizenship Award. The award recognizes students for their contributions to their communities through volunteerism, public service, leadership and citizenship. LINK: Queen's Golden Jubilee Awards

  • Nicole Garner, Communications and Public Relations Manager, presented highlights from school's throughout the division. The presentation focused on Mental Health. The full document can be viewed on the division's website: Good News - May 11, 2022

  • Terry Moghrabi, Associate Superintendent, thanked the Transportation department staff for the work they did to show appreciation for the division's bus drivers on Bus Driver Appreciation Day. Some schools and school councils also presented bus drivers with tokens of appreciation that day.

  • Terry Moghrabi, Associate Superintendent, highlighted a new partnership with Canadian Rockies Public Schools that will give NLPS high school students the opportunity to participate in winter travel and water experience courses at the division's Outdoor Learning Centre in Kananaskis. Students will complete credits while at the facility. More information about this partnership will be shared with NLPS families soon. 

Enhanced Programming Year End Report

Terry Moghrabi, Associate Superintendent - Curriculum and Programming, reviewed the Enhanced Programming Year End report with the Board. 

Moghrabi noted that the goal of the enhanced programming provided by NLPS is to improve high school completion by increasing engagement and connecting students to careers. This starts in middle school with the division's Mobile Trades Lab and is enhanced at the high school level through dual credit opportunities, the Trades Exposure Centre, and partnerships with industry, businesses, post-secondary institutions and community organizations. 

The division has partnerships with several colleges and universities to provide students with dual credit opportunities where they can earn high school and college or university credits at the same time. The division's most recent dual credit course development was a partnership with Portage College to create an Indigenous second language course. Portage College and NLPS ran two sections of the Cree language course this school year. 

The division's Mobile Trades Lab provided programming in the Bonnyville area this year and will move to Lac La Biche next year. Middle school students continue to benefit from this program which introduces them to welding and other related careers. 

Through partnerships with post-secondary institutions, NLPS has also been able to offer its Career and Technology Studies teachers with professional development opportunities they wouldn't otherwise be able to access. This has allowed some schools to expand programming opportunities for students.

Next steps include continuing to build relationships and partnerships with businesses and post-secondary institutions to expand programming opportunities for students and to further examine changes made to dual credit programming by the government. 


Locally Developed Course Approval

Terry Moghrabi, Associate Superintendent - Curriculum and Programming, presented the Board with a list of new locally developed courses that the division's high schools would like to offer to students. The courses need to be approved by the Board before being submitted to Alberta Education for approval. If the government approves them, schools could make them available as early as September.

The courses approved by the Board include:

  • Aviation - Navigation Aids 15-3
  • Religions of the World 35-3
  • Religions of the World 35-5
  • Content Literacy 15-5
  • Content Literacy 25-5
  • Surviving Financially as an Adult 25-5
  • Social Skills 15-5
  • Self Directed Learning 15-3


Mental Health Survey Update

Jimmi Lou Irvine, Associate Superintendent - Student Services and Indigenous Relations, provided the Board with an overview of the results of mental health focused surveys completed by students and parents. 

Irvine reminded Board members that the division's focus on improving student mental health began in the 2019-2020 school year, the same year that in person classes were cancelled due to COVID. In Feburary of that year, each school had outlined a plan to address student mental health. Unfortunately the pandemic impacted some of those plans. 

In March, 70% of NLPS students in Kindergarten through Grade 12 completed a mental health survey that asked questions focusing on four areas: Student Potential, Responding to Stress, Ability to Learn and Work, and Desire to Engage in Daily Activities. Irvine provided some highlights and discussed several areas of concern that were identified as a result of the survey. 

Highlights included:

  • Over 96% of Kindergarten to Grade 2 students agreed that their teacher wants them to do their best
  • Over 85% of Grade 7 to 12 students agree or strongly agree that they are hopeful about their future
  • Students seem to be able to control their worrying and they do not feel afraid, as if something awful might happen
  • Over 87% of students in grades 3 to 12 agreed or strongly agreed that they have a safe adult they can talk to at home

Areas of concern included:

  • Over 25% of students in grades 3 to 12 indicated that they did not know what to do to try and manage their feelings when they are upset
  • Over 25% of students indicated they don't feel that a lot of things about them are good.
  • Approximately 20% of students in grades 3 to 12 students reported that in the two months prior to the survey, they struggled with feeling nervous, anxious or on edge, or with becoming easily annoyed or irritable.
  • 37% of students in grades 3 to 12 either disagree or strongly disagree that they can talk to and adult at school about their problems
  • 29% of students in grades 3 to 12 either disagree or strongly disagree that they belong in their school community.
  • Over 48% of students in grades 7 to 12 disagree or strong disagree that they are engaged and interested in daily activities.

Parents had the opportunity to complete a survey through Engage NLPS in late March/early April with questions about school atmosphere, school mental health services, student mental health experiences, services and supports, and parent learning opportunities. A total of 437 parents responded, representing 12.8% of the division's students.

Irvine shared several highlights and areas of concern that were identified from this survey as well.


  • Over 80% of parents agreed or strongly agreed that their child's school is a welcoming place to be
  • 79% of parents indicated their child is hopeful about their future.
  • Parents indicated the topics they are most interested in learning more about are understanding anxiety, social media and digital addiction, understanding stress, and bullying/cyberbullying. Preferred formats are pre-recorded online sessions, in person sessions with other parents, access to recommended resources, and online webinars.

Areas of Concern:

  • Some parents indicated that some students do not feel a sense of belonging at school and that they don't feel students at their child's school care about each other
  • Some parents indicated that they didn't know or disagreed that students could get help with problems not related to school work
  • Some parents indicated that they did not know if their child had opportunities to learn about mental health, is taught skills and knowledge to maintain mental health, or have access mental health resources at school.
  • Only 60% of parents indicated that their child knows what they can do to try and handle their feelings when they are upset.
  • Only 54% of parents felt their child could talk to an adult at school about their problems.
  • Very few parents indicated they would feel comfortable explaining to others what mental health services or supports are available in their school or community.
  • Almost half of the parents surveyed indicated they had tried to access outside services and supports since 2020, including therapists (64%), psychologists (52%), and psychiatrists (32%)
  • Parents indicated the greatest barriers to accessing supports for their children are that the services aren't available locally (50%), long waiting lists (51%) and cost (37%).

Irvine noted the high numbers of families trying to access services is a concern because the division knows how difficult it is to access services locally. For example, families needing the services of a child psychiatrist are referred to Grande Prairie. The travel and expense presents an insurmountable barrier for many families to access those services. 

Administrators reviewed the division data from both surveys as well as the data for each of their schools. They have also reviewed the counselling data from their schools. Division-wide, over 1,430 referrals were made to Student Advocacy Counsellors this year. Irvine said looking at the data can help identify trends such as whether or not referrals for particular topics are coming from a particular grade or classroom. It can also help identify what resources a school needs or what professional development staff may benefit from. 

Irvine said schools and division staff are still identifying what next steps are to address the areas of concern that have been identified. The data will be used to help the division and schools develop their plans for the next school year. 

Board Chair Karen Packard thanked all of the students and parents who participated in the survey, noting the information is incredibly for the Board to identify how best to move forward to address the needs of students. 

Trustees expressed concern about the survey results and the lack of support school divisions are receiving from the provincial government to address student mental health, particularly with the number of families seeking support for their students, the distance they have to go to access services, and the impact mental health is having in classrooms.

Trustee Roy Ripkens suggested having further conversations with students and parents to gain more insight into how some areas of concern identified by the survey could be addressed. Irvine explained that schools will be discussing how best to share survey results and work with staff, parents and students to address concerns. She also noted that almost 150 parents indicated they would like to participate in focus groups if the division held them. Given how valuable parents' time is, she noted this level of interest was significant and the division will be looking at how best to facilitate those discussions. 

Superintendent Rick Cusson said there are several things that the Board can do from an advocacy perspective to address some of the issues identified by the surveys including advocating for services to be available locally or at least closer geographically, encouraging the government to reduce the red tape associated with accessing services, and working with local service providers and other elected officials to identify how the community can work together to better provide services to families. 

Cusson said addressing student mental health is critical to improving student achievement. If students cannot regulate, they will not learn as much or excel academically. He noted that the division is already investing more resources into mental health than other school divisions of similar size, and has been doing that for many years already.