An emerging advocacy organization allowed Alberta parents and other interested parties to have their say about education in the province at its first-ever event May 19, in Cochrane.
The Alberta Parents’ Union (APU), which launched last week, is kicking off a 23-stop province-wide tour to provide an opportunity for parents from Fort McMurray to Lethbridge to meet and discuss challenges faced in education in recent years, issues affecting their children and schools, and opportunities to advance Alberta’s education system in the future.
“We started [APU] to make sure that parents have more of a voice in their own kids’ education, to make sure parents are respected as being true experts in their individual child,” said executive director Jeff Park. “There are experts in curriculum, experts in pedagogy, experts in particular fields of study – but the expert in my kids is me and my wife.”
Park, who has four children, has spent 16 years working in education policy, most recently with the Alberta Institute. He says an organization like the APU has been needed for some time, long before the provincial government drafted the controversial new K-6 curriculum, or tried to navigate its way through the education system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When things are going well, sometimes you don’t even notice how little your voice is being heard,” said Park. “But when there is genuine disagreement, then it brings those issues to the fore.”
During the pandemic, Park added, parents were not included in the provincial government’s or their school board’s decision-making processes, despite the impacts those decisions would have on their children’s lives, as well as their own.
“When that material hit the kitchen tables and parents started saying ‘I don’t know how to teach this,’ or ‘I don’t know how to help my kids with this anymore’ – that’s when the problems showed up,” he said.
Park predicts the same problems will appear when the K-6 curriculum officially starts being taught in Alberta’s schools next year.
“We won’t really know one way or the other, because we weren’t really given much of a chance to speak to it,” he said.
Around 30 parents and interested parties in the Cochrane were in attendance for the APU’s kick-off.
After an introduction by a local parent supporter and a presentation about the APU, attendees were broken off into groups according to whether their kids attend a Catholic, public, private, home or charter school for round-table discussions.
At the end, the idea was for everyone to get together to discuss their concerns and ask questions in a forum-like setting.
“Really, the emphasis is, I’m not trying to tell the parents what they need to do,” said Park. “I need them to tell me what to do. I work for them, and I want to make sure that they have the best opportunity to let me know what my priorities should be and what sort of advocacy they expect to see.”
The event at the Lions Club Event Centre was the first stop of the APU’s tour of Alberta, which is expected to wrap around the end of June.
Some other planned stops along the way include Taber, Medicine Hat, Strathmore, Red Deer, Rocky Mountain House, Brooks and Drumheller.