SSDEC Literacy Initiative receives ministerial award

SSDEC Literacy Initiative receives ministerial award
Ann Pischinger, SSDEC chair person and representative for Fort Smith, shows off the SSDEC’s latest award next to a treasure trove of the school board’s accomplishments.Photo: SSDEC.

Since the early 2000s, the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) has identified improving literacy rates among its student population as a top priority and now, it is being recognized for its efforts.

The school board’s Leadership for Literacy Initiative was awarded with the Ministerial Literacy Award for Organizations at a ceremony hosted by Education, Culture and Employment Minister Jackson Lafferty on Sept. 22.

Other winners awarded for their commitment to improving literacy included adult learner Carol Elanik from the Beaufort Delta, educator Caroline Roux from Yellowknife and volunteer educator Catarina Owen from the Sahtu.

The SSDEC’s literacy program is directed by a regional working committee, led by a coordinator and made up of one representative from each school in the South Slave. Every year, the committee updates the program with new strategies and actions.

This year’s challenge includes elements of social and cultural awareness.

“The board members, staff, students – by the end of the year, 70 per cent of them will be able to do greetings in an Aboriginal language,” said Ann Pischinger, SSDC chair person.

The three regional Indigenous languages taught in the schools of the South Slave include Slavey, Chipewyan and Cree.

“We want to honour that 70-plus per cent of our students are of Aboriginal descent and we want to honour their culture and heritage,” said SSDEC superintendent Dr. Curtis Brown.

There is also an increased focus on the self-regulation of mental health for students and teachers this year, with classes and activities devoted to developing social-emotional learning.

The annual challenges, as well as the ongoing initiatives, are developed based on a three-prong approach maximizing student, teacher and parent engagement.

“With those three things, you can’t help but improve student success,” Brown said.

A decade of increasing literacy rates

Since launching the initiative in 2007, the school board has seen steady improvements in its math, reading and writing scores, as measured in the Grade 6 Alberta Achievement test results.

Over time, educators have also noticed an increase in the percentage of students reaching the Canadian Standard in both math and reading, improvements in the percentage of parents saying they are satisfied with their child’s academic performance and higher student attendance rates.

The model has been so successful, it has been adapted by school boards in Nunavut and Alberta, and been shared at international education forums.

“I think about 25 per cent of our teachers and principals over the years have been recognized for their excellence – a lot of them because of the leadership from this initiative – but the unsung heroes are the board members,” Brown said. “From back in 2007, they basically demanded there would be improvement and they were very careful in choosing what their priorities would be.”

“Our main focus is the student success, we want them to succeed,” Pischinger said. “Parents, teachers, staff; if we all work together we will continue on that success and not maintain the status quo. I guess that’s our goal, is to keep on as a council.”

To learn more about the SSDEC Literacy Initiative, tune into this video at

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