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Coming Together – How the Fort McMurray Public School Division Family rises to the challenges during COVID

By on October 15, 2020 0 875 Views

As a new world of COVID-19 unfolded – Fort McMurray Public School Division (FMPSD) came and stayed together. The FMPSD Family rose to the challenge of embracing online learning, providing mental health supports for students, parents, and staff, faced a 100-year flood, as well as collaborated with community organizations.

As with any other unprecedented situation, mental health became a priority quickly. A counsellor was hired specifically for COVID-19 and flood support for all schools. FMPSD initiated online family therapy with weekly virtual parent Hangout sessions including recorded sessions posted on our website. Weekly online teacher/staff support meetings happened, and we ensured we were “meeting them where they are.”

And, all of this was new to the counselling team. They had never needed or done online sessions before, but once they were trained, the results delighted them. Mellanie Fraser, Mental Health Coordinator for FMPSD was at the forefront of the many mental health supports.

“We were indeed “meeting them where they are.” And, saw significant success working with families/students through an online counselling platform. Prior to COVID 19, some families and/or individual students wanted support, but could not access it due to barriers with attending the counselling sessions in person. Online opportunities made it more accessible to those families. We noticed many families made great strides with this new online platform. Students struggling with significant anxiety were now able to participate in counselling from home. Thanks to the idea of “meeting them where they are” literally and figuratively, we provided support to our families on their terms,” enthused Fraser, who has been with the Division for over two years.

“Our counsellors now feel they have added another tool to their kit to help our FMPSD families. By making counselling easily accessible in a way that we never provided before, there were many therapeutic gains and this is by far one of the best things that came out of COVID 19,” Fraser said.

Speaking of best things, our Education department also had valuable takeaways from collaborating during COVID. Weekly Google Hangouts with teachers once saw a maximum of 102 teachers online, and the feedback was phenomenal.

“Teachers found this was valuable time to get information, to hear the big picture plan. They were also able to give feedback on re-entry planning. It was the kind of collaboration which was so successful that teachers have requested this continue all year no matter what scenario we are in,” noted Annalee Nutter, Assistant Superintendent, Education and Administration, who has been with FMPSD for 18 years.

Jen Quigley, FMPSD’s new Director of Education joined us on August 1 this year. She was impressed by how FMPSD came together.

“I was so appreciative of the obviously deep, and comprehensive thinking and conversations that occurred over the spring and summer among each department and stakeholder group. FMPSD functions as a well-developed system of collaboration and true listening. Division Office staff had taken every element of safety into consideration; they collaborated with stakeholders to hear concerns and solutions and remained attuned and flexible to the guidance from Alberta Health Services.”

On a personal note, Quigley was also impressed by the Fort McMurray community.

“I was struck by the kindness and compassion that Fort McMurray and FMPSD had for me, and each other. I made re-entry phone calls with families that began as strangers and ended with the desire to meet face-to-face. I called offering support and hung up feeling supported as a newcomer to town. I met with families, staff, and administrators who with pride, told me about their schools, their children or their programs in FMPSD. I knew I would love Fort McMurray and FMPSD, but the reality has exceeded my expectations. I am so grateful to be a small part of such a warm and welcoming place.”

Coming together for everyone – warm and welcoming – the FMPSD Family and Fort McMurray. Doing What’s Best for Kids!

For more information on any of our 16 schools, visit: For real time updates: follow us on Twitter: @FMPSD. Like us on Facebook: Fort McMurray Public School Division. Instagram @FMPSD.


Photo: Fort McMurray Public School Division’s Annalee Nutter, Jen Quigley and Mellanie Fraser in August 2020. Photo by FMPSD.

About the author

Freelance Journalist

Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.