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Hundreds attend a virtual HRCE meeting to discuss cell phones, safety and growth in schools

Hundreds of parents and caregivers have answered a Teams call to discuss student well-being with education leaders in Halifax.

The Halifax Regional Center for Education (HRCE) hosted the meeting Tuesday evening and responded to more than 660 thoughts submitted by more than 530 families.

Cell phones, school safety and growth were the top concerns.

Communications Officer for HRCE, Lindsey Bunin, says the most common topic was how mobile phones take a huge toll on focus, learning and even self-esteem.

However, one comment in particular topped the list.

“For mental health and to reduce distractions, we recommend using less mobile phones during class.”

Executive Director Steve Gallagher says it’s a complex topic.

“On the one hand, a cell phone, or an iPhone, or an Android, whatever… is an incredible learning tool, but on the other hand, I think it’s the greatest source of distraction and disruption in the history of education. ”

Gallagher adds that a big part of it is the “invisible interaction” between students inside and outside the classroom.

Teachers have repeatedly stated that a different approach is needed to help students focus on learning.

He says part of the problem isn’t just the phone, but also access to social media.

As things stand, mobile telephony policy is determined on a school-by-school basis, but the Ministry of Education has launched a large-scale consultation.

This will constitute a provincial approach to telephone use in schools. Education Minister Becky Druhan is expected to make the announcement Thursday in Halifax.

Student safety

Another hot topic was the lack of consequences, given all the violence.

Last week, students from Astral Drive Junior High walked out in protest against safety conditions.

Gallagher says no level of violence is acceptable in schools and acknowledges they are falling short of that standard.

“The goal is for every student and staff member to feel safe at his or her school every day.”

He adds that there are big things going on at the provincial level to help.

This includes the Ministry of Education’s review of the code of conduct and the implementation of a school lunch program.

“We know that when children of any age and stage are hungry, they are more likely to take action and lash out.”

He added that members of HRCE’s senior team also meet regularly with RCMP and police to discuss how they can work better together.

Gallagher says that last spring all principals and vice principals received threat risk training, including teachers in September.

Grow

What was called “the elephant in the room” was growth.

Gallagher called it “unprecedented” and a real challenge, with an increase of almost 9,000 students in the past five years to more than 59,000 students in 137 schools with 20 different classes.

“If you are in some areas, like Bedford and Clayton Park, you would be very familiar with the changes that have taken place, but generally speaking, if you are in some of the areas that have not yet been affected by this growth, believe me then that it’s coming.”

To adapt, they opened five new schools in six years, adding 141 modular classrooms and using 60 portable classrooms.

There are currently three schools under construction and four more have been announced, with locations to be determined soon, which will reconfigure 11 classrooms.

Gallagher says the main goal is to create space in a positive learning environment.

“Halifax is growing rapidly and students are arriving in large numbers with families… something great for our city and for our province, but a challenge for us to continue to work on.”