Fifty-seven per cent of students in Border Land School Division (BLSD) feel a high sense of belonging, according to the Our School Survey conducted this past fall. That is slightly below the national average of 62 per cent, notes assistant superintendent, Shauna Hamm.

The division has schools in Sprague, Vita and Dominion City here in the southeast. For the assessment, students were asked to rate their experience of schooling and school climate by responding to questions that doubled as measuring indicators split into two categories: student outcomes and drivers of student outcomes. 

"[The student outcomes] indicators tell us about students' perceptions of their experience at schools," explained Hamm. "So, their sense of belonging. How positive relationships are. Do they value school? How interested or motivated are they? How much effort do they put in all of those things?" 

When it comes to the drivers of student outcomes, Hamm noted, those are the things that can be planned for and influenced through teaching.

"So, when we work with the survey, we focus on the drivers of student outcomes because those are things that we can influence and control to try to impact the outcomes for students. So, an example there would be positive teacher/student relations, positive learning climate, expectations for success. Advocacy outside of school is another interesting one, which is students feeling like there's somebody who consistently encourages them or that they can turn to for advice outside of the school." 

A strength for BLSD that was revealed in the survey results, said Hamm, was that students feel they have someone they can consistently turn to for advice or encouragement at school. "Our students rating was 3.1 out of 10, which is a reflection of how often they experience that, which is above the Canadian norm."

Additionally, the results indicated that, for the most part, students feel the teachers are responsive to their needs and encourage their independence by asking them about the things they're working on, talking to them about their life outside of school. "Basically, how often students feel like teachers are showing them that they care," said Hamm, noting BLSD came in above the Canadian norm in that category as well.

When it comes to students' perceptions of the learning climate, BLSD rated consistent with other divisions across Canada. This includes having clear rules and expectations for behavior - do students follow those expectations? 

Also consistent with the Canadian norm was students' ratings of staff's emphasis on academic skills and placing high expectations.

Coming in above the national average, but not in a positive way, was the number of students who indicated they experience bullying, either at school or over the Internet. 

"Typically, in Canada, about 20% of students would say that they experienced bullying, exclusion and harassment. In our division this year it was 29% of students, which is a significant difference," said Hamm, noting this would clearly have an impact on the sense of belonging that students have. "[...] because it's the opposite of belonging." 

"We were close to the Canadian norm in terms of students feeling safe attending school," she added. "Fifty per cent of our students feel safe attending school in our division. The Canadian norm is 58%."

With this data in hand, principals will share the information with their staff and use it to plan school-based responses to what their students are saying. For example, the bullying indicators also provide feedback about where bullying is happening, explained Hamm, and that information will be used to address things like supervision plans within the school, influence direct teaching to students about behavioural expectations, etc. 

"And I know that our schools also always emphasize to students that you don't have to wait for a survey to tell us if you're not feeling safe at school. Please tell us right away so that we can address it."

At the divisional level, administrators use this data to support planning and their continuous improvement plan for the well-being of students.

"So, we work with the divisional data and look at the trends and plan supports for our staff. There's a range of ways that we do that through what our guidance counselor team focuses on or what we work with principals on, what our resource teachers are being supported with," explained Hamm.

She stressed that experiencing a sense of belonging is essential to students' well-being. "We know that when students experience belonging, they are in a better place to learn. It's hard to be engaged in a classroom if you don't feel like who you are is accepted, and the contributions that you have to make are appreciated by your peers and others at the school. So, it's the foundation for all learning."