First ‘octomester’ shows strong achievement rate for students

By Jenn Watt

Most secondary school students enrolled in classes in Trillium Lakelands District School Board received class credits at the end of their first “octoblock” or “octomester” – the schedule employed this year where students take only one class at a time, studying the subject for the full school day.

Katherine MacIver, superintendent of learning, reported to the board of trustees on Tuesday, Oct. 27 that the credit accumulation rate in the first octoblock was 98 per cent.

“We had 4,313 credits and only 86 of those credits were not awarded,” she told the trustees.

Of those who completed their credits, 58 per cent received marks between 80 to 100 per cent; one-fifth of students received grades between 70 and 79 per cent.

The semester has been broken up into octomesters of 22 days each to make it easier to keep students with their cohorts and to limit the amount of mixing that happens in schools – something that could lessen the risk of coronavirus spread.

To give trustees a sense of how the new system worked, a few teachers were invited to present on what the first month and a half back at school was like.

Kim Williams, principal of Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School, thanked the teachers for the work they had done in tackling the challenges this fall.

“There is no doubt that the pandemic has set us back in time and has caused a lot of changes in our personal and our work experiences,” Williams said. “… there are always silver linings in every struggle that we overcome.”

Teachers from BMLSS and Lindsay Collegiate and Vocational Institute described an octomester that both allowed for intense study, and also one that could be difficult to plan for. It didn’t seem there was enough time to teach everything in the curriculum before Oct. 16 and if a student was absent, it meant they were very far behind their peers. On the other hand, the concentrated time often meant less stopping and starting, using time more efficiently.

Video recordings of student feedback was also played for trustees.
“I like during the octomester we focused on one subject for 22 days rather than having to go through and do four subjects for the whole semester. It really helps focus on a single thing and you get a lot more work done in that time,” one student said.

“I just feel like there’s a lot more pressure put on students because there is no time for mistakes, like you have to get everything done within this time period,” another said.

Fewer opportunities to socialize were available, one student said, and different cohorts have different lunch breaks. “So there’s just like a lot less of a social aspect and … I like to socialize,” the student said.

Another student said he wished there were more mask breaks during the day. He said that Google Classroom online had worked well when he had to stay home sick (the policy is that students exhibiting a set list of symptoms, which can also indicate a cold or flu, must stay home until they are tested for COVID-19).

One student reported that he anticipated his fellow students breaking rules and not observing physical distancing recommendations, but he was pleasantly surprised to find that students were doing what was asked of them.

Asked by trustees about truancy and misbehaviour, those presenting said they hadn’t seen much.

Feed All Four fund in the works

Noting the pandemic has presented financial hardship for many families within the school board, director of education Wes Hahn told the trustees about a Feed All Four fundraising campaign in the works.

Feed All Four, a concept created by TLDSB, is a blend of the Indigenous medicine wheel and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, emphasizing the importance of “feeding” the mind, body, spirit and emotions to create a sense of well being and happiness.

“What we’ve done is we’ve decided to put together an educational community collaborative effort through a Feed All Four fund that will look at really going out to our educational community for donations … that can be used to support our community,” Hahn said.

Employees at TLDSB will be asked to donate funds during the six-to-eight-week campaign and administrators will identify families in need.

“It’s the perfect time of year,” Hahn said. “It certainly aligns with our TLDSB ‘Together We’re Better’ [motto]…”

Trustee Gary Brohman, representing Haliburton County, asked whether those donating could designate funds for specific areas. Hahn said the funds will all go into one pot and be distributed based on identified need.