When Jordan Balfour was voted in as Education Students’ Society (ESS) President for 2020/2021, he didn’t expect he would be navigating a pandemic.
“The world we are living in now, it isn’t what I signed up for from the start. There have been a lot of bumpy roads, and still are. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate, how to communicate, how to represent the students, how to communicate with faculty and represent that to students. I wasn’t sure how to do this—it’s really been a complete adjustment.”
Balfour is a busy third-year secondary Education student, with a major in Biology and two minors, who is also working on a second degree in Indigenous Environmental Sciences. Despite the difficulties of remote studies and pandemic restrictions, Balfour with the ESS team are finding their way and making connections.
The addition of a new executive role, VP of Community Relations, is one way that the ESS is reaching out. “I thought we didn’t have enough representation in the community, so we created a new position called community relations,” says Balfour.
The position was offered to Paige Hamann, new to the ESS and in her second year of the Secondary program with a major in Social Studies and a minor in English. Hamann says, “I inquired about how to become an ESS member, had an interview to see what team I would fit best in, and then they offered me the position on the executive because of my experience with nonprofits.” Hamann had started her own photography business in Grade 10 and then last summer, following the loss of a friend who struggled with mental health, she incorporated Inside the Box, a nonprofit seeking to address the stigma around mental health within the sports culture.
Hamann says her vision for ESS community relations involves, “letting the community know that the University of Regina ESS wants to support them. We want to do as much as possible to help everybody in our community.” The Community Relations team of five has been providing opportunities for students to volunteer and creating spotlights on local organizations that support education, such as the Inspiring Young Minds book store and Ascendant Martial Arts.
The ESS is reaching out through donations as well. Balfour says, “we donated $500 to five schools for PPE funding because we could not go to the schools and volunteer our time. We also provided Street Culture and Rainbow Youth Centre a large sum of pumpkins and donated time to carve pumpkins with youth.” And they have purchased gift cards to contribute to giveaways for student draws.
Balfour says there have been many changes because the social events typically hosted by the ESS are restricted. “We just had a social event that we were worried about hosting. A month ago we rented a movie theatre, and we had to follow the COVID-19 restrictions, limiting our numbers from 20 to 15. We were worried about how it would go. We did get some backlash, but we followed our protocols. It was our last face-to-face social event.” To ensure they could keep to the restricted number who could attend, the ESS charged a $5 ticket price and had students register to attend. All proceeds from the event were donated to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Foundation of Regina.
Without face-to-face events, the ESS has found it difficult to connect with students and build an Education student family. Balfour says, “Because we are online we don’t have the same ability to build that connection, a culture of relying on each other for support while we are undergrad students.”
Instead of face-to-face socials, the Social Team, headed up by Danielle Maeder, is offering giveaways and prizes in exchange for tags, follows, and likes on the ESS social media, managed by the VP of Communications Sara Tokarz.
Balfour has realized that remote studies due to COVID-19 have given ESS executives another new role. “We benefited from a really bad situation. We had a lot of first-year students sign up. New students who joined the ESS are trying to achieve this social, cultural connection with the University that they don’t get through remote classes. Some of them have never been on campus. We are trying to help them with that community. Some of the best aspects of the Faculty are the classes we get to attend. I was looking forward to the interactions and being a part of the educational experience in the Faculty of Education. We are here to provide…almost a peer mentorship. We’re like big brothers and sisters, cause we are experienced in the program,” says Balfour.
With new students in mind, the ESS’s Professional Development (PD) team, headed by Kiah Holness, offered their first virtual event, “Ed’s Declassified School Survival Guide” where more experienced students offered tips and tricks for when new students finally come to the campus, such as where to buy the best coffee, how to find parking, how to buy textbooks, and how to navigate their own involvement. Other PD events offered virtually were “Building Resilience for Stress of Teaching” presented by Dyan Roth and “Indigenous Brilliance” with Justin “Jah’ kota” Holness.
The ESS executive is also working with Dr. Pamela Osmond-Johnson, the associate dean for undergraduate programs, to develop a new pilot program to provide small grants to pre-interns and interns to support practicum-based projects. Balfour says, “They are the only ones out there facing everything going on with the pandemic. Interns and pre-interns are unable to connect with community resources and bring them into the classroom because schools are locked down. With funding, they will have the resources to assist their practicum experience. Students won’t have to pay out of pocket.”
To apply for funding to provide resources, to make community connections, or to assist in lesson planning, pre-interns and interns can apply to the ESS for a specific amount with a proposal for PD funding.
There are more plans for collaboration with undergraduate Student Services. Balfour says, “Pam is excited about what we are accomplishing. We will be working with Student Services to host events where they can provide feedback for students, such as town halls and other opportunities for students to learn to navigate the ‘what’s next?’ in their programs.”
The ESS is also looking into collaborations with the University of Saskatchewan Education Students’ Society to broaden and extend their reach to offer PD events to Education students across Saskatchewan.
“The ESS team is amazing this year. They are so thrown out there even during pandemic. They are doing so much with the resources they have,” says Balfour. “This year has brought more than I expected. I didn’t expect 25 team members. These young individuals are so self-driven with their leadership and where they want to take their careers and what they want to accomplish.”
Balfour continues, “The pandemic has really changed everything. The way we can support students and the University at the same time. We’ve had to figure out how to navigate through that. It has been a challenge to make sure we follow proper protocols and to make sure we are inclusive to team members and the student body. Some of the ESS executive has navigated in ways that they couldn’t even anticipate. The experience has been phenomenal.”