Engagement with our stakeholders is a top priority in the Fort Vermilion School Division. One of the ways in which we connect with stakeholder groups to get their feedback and input is focus groups. Focus groups are held at the school level with students and parents.
Schools hold a minimum of eight student focus groups each year. These focus groups provide an opportunity for students to have a voice in the school and influence decisions. Focus groups ideally are relatively small groups with whom the school administration can have a meaningful discussion regarding a specific topic relevant to the school. Student focus groups may change throughout the year so that a cross-section of the demographic make-up of the school is represented. All ages and cultural groups, for example, should have an opportunity to be included in the focus groups. Some schools choose to use their Student Council as their focus groups. This student body engages with administration around the selected topic, often getting the input of their classmates as well. The topics addressed at student focus groups can be as varied as the schools and communities across our school division. In some schools, there may be a need to involve students in a discussion around bullying, for example, to get the students’ perspective as to what may be occurring in the school, the reasons and some possible suggestions to address bullying. At another school, there may be a need to discuss possibilities to increase activities for students during the lunch hour. Schools have used focus groups as a means to engage students in the school’s planning for the coming school year. Any issue that involves or affects students could be the topic at a focus group. What is most important is to gain the student perspective and input.
Schools also hold a minimum of four parent focus groups each year. Like the student focus groups, the topics can be as varied as the schools across the division. Most important is that the focus group topic is relevant to the school, students and parent body and allows the parent voice to be heard and to have an impact on decision-making at the school level. Topics addressed at parent focus groups include creating inclusive environments for all students, education planning, and effective use of technology in the classroom among others.
The Student Advisory Team is another group that allows students to have a voice and provide input. This group, made up of high school students from each of our high schools, meets with the Board of Trustees three times each year to provide input to the trustees on selected topics. The students on this team take their role very seriously, planning as a group how they will engage their peers at each school, returning to their school to gather the ideas of the other students, and finally reporting back to the Board on the selected topic. Discussions between the student representatives and the trustees have been purposeful and meaningful, providing the trustees with perspective they might not otherwise have had without the direct involvement of students in this process.
The advent of focus groups has had a positive impact on our students in many FVSD schools. We have seen an increase in student engagement and leadership at all levels. The younger grades in particular have witnessed a growth in the children’s desire to make an impact and have a say in what is happening at their school. As these young students progress throughout the grades, we hope they will continue to use their voice and involve their peers to make their schools even better than they are today. These young people, the leaders of the future, are poised to become active members of society ready to make a difference in the world of tomorrow.
For more information please contact Kathryn Kirby, Assistant Superintendent of Inclusive Education at firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-927-3766.