Multiple actions support students for high-stress diploma exams

“The students, they have the freedom to choose which class they’re going to.” Ron Rarick, Assistant Principal, Ponoka Secondary Campus

With diploma exams fast approaching for Ponoka’s Grade 12 students, schools are looking to find more and more ways to provide extended support to students and help them alleviate stress.

The Ponoka Secondary Campus (PSC) holds a regulated block of class time specifically designed to allow students additional time with teachers for work they may be struggling with or need additional support in.

The MESST (math, English, science, social studies tutorial) class, while running all year long, tends to become exam prep for the older students at this time of year, says assistant principal Ron Rarick.

“The students, they have the freedom to choose which class they’re going to,” said Rarick.

“We’ve had that in our school for three years, one way or another,” he added.

For exam preparation, some teachers are also holding study times over the weekend. “There’s lots of opportunity,” said Rarick.

Rarick believes stress levels in students may have been increasing over the past few decades as the lives of students become busier with jobs, extra-curricular activities and other distractions.

Post-secondary institutions uphold many academic requirements and competition within the workforce is always increasing. Many Grade 12 students see their future opportunities riding on the diploma, which currently makes up 50 per cent of a student’s final mark.

The Alberta Teacher’s Association recently voted that the number be dropped down to 30 per cent, and while the provincial government will have the final say on the matter, Rarick feels the move would benefit students. “If it dropped, it would lower some of the stress.”

In the past few years, Alberta’s curriculum has seen some changes, as have standard teaching practices as the province moves to make learning more hands on and inclusive.

Rarick does not think these changes will have adverse effects on students as long as they prepare properly for diplomas. “They still have to meet those same outcomes . . . it just provides different opportunities based on learning styles,” he said.

PSC is considered one of the top schools in Alberta when it comes to embracing Action on Inclusion and 21 Century Learning, two popular inclusion initiatives.

Being able to support students during high-stress times is a top priority for the school. “It’s super important to teachers,” said Rarick.

He feels the biggest way students can help themselves is by preparing for the exams and warns them not to cram study.

Along with academic support, the school also opens up the fitness room, gym and other option rooms such as music and art for all students when they need to blow off a little steam.