By MPP Toby Barrett
 

As students get set to head back to school, there is more to think about than new pencils, jeans and sneakers.
 
The good news is Ontario students are going back to class, full-time, in-person, in a more normal learning environment. We made a commitment to parents, and we are delivering on it. We know students benefit when they interact in-person with their teachers and peers.
 
The Ontario Government continues to follow the advice of Canada’s pediatric hospitals, including Sick Kids Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and Ontario’s Science Table. One item these experts have been clear about is the need for improvement of air ventilation within our schools.
 
In 2020, we acted upon this direction and allocated over $600 million to support over 50,000 High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) units and other ventilation devices. There have been over 2,000 infrastructure improvements to air quality and ventilation within Ontario schools. This is in addition to the $1.4 billion in annual school renewal funding available to boards to support improvements to ventilation systems.
 
Locally, the Grand Erie District School Board is receiving 765 HEPA units and $67,000 to purchase additional units. At time of writing, Grand Erie was awaiting an update but expected the new units will be running in time for the arrival of students. The Brant Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic District School Board is receiving nearly 120 HEPA units and an additional $24,000 to purchase more.
 
Those schools with mechanical ventilation are now using high-grade filters to ensure maximum airflow and fresh air intake. When kids go back to school, any classroom or learning space without mechanical ventilation will have a standalone HEPA filter unit in place.
 
Your students may also spend more time outside as teachers are encouraged to utilize the outdoors as their classroom when weather permits.

Windows will be open allowing fresh air to circulate in learning environments.
 
When it comes to hitting the books, Ontario has launched a $200 million four-year math strategy to support improving student performance and to address the declining math scores under the previous government.
 
The world has changed since the elementary math curriculum was updated in 2005. Come September, there will be relevant, real-life examples taught that will connect math to everyday life, such as creating a budget, e-transfers, learning to code and the development of infographics. This will help students solve everyday math problems and increase students’ employability to secure jobs in the future.
 
During my high school days, I had access to the shops and later taught in the shop wing – knowledge I continue to use today. Through the fall 2018 consultations, parents shared feedback that schools were not doing enough to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). As a response, our government is placing an emphasis on improving STEM subjects in school, as well as promoting skilled trades as a first-choice career path.
 
For several years, we have seen a plethora of help wanted signs across Haldimand-Norfolk. Many of those signs are for the skilled trades. There are rewarding careers in these fields and there is a shortage. It is time we prepare our young people for the future by giving them the tools to succeed and teaching them about the importance of STEM in key high growth industries.
 
We will see change for our students in the coming weeks – all for the good!
 
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk