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For many, school is about more than the numbers

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Hunter, Justine
Publication Date: 
24 Oct 2010



Every year for the past decade, the number of pupils enrolled at Vancouver's Sir Guy Carleton Elementary School has slipped. It has now reached the point, in the eyes of the cash-strapped Vancouver School Board, where not enough young families are living in the Collingwood district to justify keeping the lights on at the 114-year-old school.

Ann Wong, whose two children are among the 376 students at Carleton this year, says the raw economics are wrong. She doesn't accept that her 11-year-old daughter's friendships and teacher bonds should be shattered because of a temporary dip in enrollment. And she is worried about how a shuttered school would change the neighbourhood.

"It will become a ghost town," she said. Although the school is at 73-per-cent capacity, she said that doesn't tell the whole story, which includes a day care, martial arts and adult education classes offered at Carleton.

"I would ask the Minister of Education, the school board members, to visit the school and walk the halls, to say which class is empty - because there isn't any," she said in an interview on Sunday.

In a report released earlier this month, the Vancouver School Board set out its case for closing six schools to contain budget overruns.

"We can no longer afford to heat, light, and provide custodial and maintenance services for schools not enrolled to capacity," the report said.

In a province that has seen hundreds of schools close in the past eight years, the protests that the school board will hear at a public hearing about Carleton on Monday night may sound familiar.

This round of closings, however, comes when the province is rethinking its primary-education plans. It is spending $424-million introducing all-day kindergarten, and mulling early childhood education programs for three- and four-year-olds. Demographics are changing, too, with a rebound in school populations expected to begin five years from now.

Already, the province is having to build 133 new portable classrooms to accommodate the demands of all-day kindergarten.

As a target for closing, Carleton is in a class of its own - it is the largest elementary school to be closed since enrollment in B.C. began to decline in 2000, said Adrian Dix, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway.

In a community where 80 per cent of the population belongs to a visible minority, where more than half of the school is enrolled in English-as-a-second-language programs, Mr. Dix argued the impact on young and vulnerable learners will be huge. Students will be scattered to six or more different schools. "It's destructive," he said.


-reprinted from the Globe and Mail