Beyond Academics: Schools Shape Students and Communities


Photo © Pexels/Mikhail Nilov

Time to Step Up and Be Here for Students

Parents and teachers know that kids don’t just go to school for academics. Schools are a safe haven, a community for children to connect with their peers, learn the value of collaboration and play, and become immersed in a secure environment surrounded by role models and trusted adults—all while keeping up with their studies in the classroom.

“Schools are important for our communities, but they are even more important for our children,” said Sylvère Baransegeta, a school social worker in a French-speaking school board. “When a student comes home from school and wants to talk about their great day at school, when they’re excited to go back to school the next day, that’s when you can see how important school is for them.”

As a school social worker, Sylvère knows better than most that schools are a unique ecosystem, an inter-connected community focused on providing the care and support students need to thrive.

here for students
Sylvère Baransegeta © Courtesy Ontario Secondary School Teacher's Federation

Sylvère’s primary role is to work with students and staff across his school board to identify areas where children need more support, from academic challenges to difficulties at home.

“Kids have needs outside of learning, and schools are a vital part of meeting those needs,” he explained. “When kids are at school, they need to have a care team available to them, not just for help with academic needs, but also social and emotional needs.”

In Canada, children start schooling around the age of four and graduate around 18. Each year, children spend an average of 950 hours in school—by the time they graduate high school, they will have spent well over 10,000 hours in the classroom. And yet, even knowing how vital schools are for students and their communities, these educational facilities are drastically underfunded, jeopardizing their ability to fulfill their responsibilities to students and communities.

Sylvère explained that the lack of funding is evident, especially following the return to in-person learning after years spent apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is a lack of human resources,” he said. “We can feel it; everybody feels exhausted because there are not enough support professionals. We need more qualified teachers and assistant teachers. That’s what’s missing from our schools.”

Research from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Sick Kids Hospital corroborates this—studies show that there is an increased need for mental health support after the sustained negative impacts of the pandemic. This is especially true for marginalized youth, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and feel the effect even harder.

“School closures have significant effects on student mental health, especially for those who live in rural areas, Indigenous students, refugees, students with disabilities, and students who don’t have stable housing,” Sylvère explained. “And the effect lingers. Public schools need to be schools for all—students who don’t have stable internet access or devices are not able to access online learning, and this needs to be thought about.”

Insufficient funding in public schools exacerbates the challenges faced by students. Schools are doing the best they can with what they have, but it’s not enough for our students—and not enough for our communities. “Children and youth are the future of Ontario,” said Sylvère. “We as a society need to make sure that no student is left behind.”

The critical role of schools in supporting students’ holistic development and fostering thriving communities cannot be understated. By investing in our schools, we invest in our future.

Join the movement to advocate for increased funding at and be part of the effort to shape a brighter future for all students.

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For the past three years, teachers and education workers have been there for our students when they’ve needed them most. Now we need our government to do the same.


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