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No room at the school

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Jody Vance: Tax dollars are poured into government at all levels to ensure our kids have access to solid public education where they live.

No more band-aids — kids deserve better.

We need to overhaul how we structure our school systems in order to serve kids in our community. Yes, kids.

Sure, parents are stressed out with all sorts of stuff, but the true victim of a broken BC school system are the children. Right this second, hundreds of families, hundreds of kids, are scrambling for school space in places they’ve been counting on. It’s wrong.

It means they can’t sit next to their bestie neighbour.

The toll on parents, who likely went to great lengths to live in a particular catchment for their kids, is big when they are informed there’s no room at the school across the street.

Think of the 5-year-old in this scenario being told they can’t come in. That means they can’t sit next to their bestie neighbour who did get a spot. No lifelong memories of neighbourhood kids they’ve been running around with for years. It’s a heart crusher.

Enrolling in public school kindergarten is a child’s first giant step into society; it should not be a crapshoot lottery. No family deserves being left out in the cold to face the possibility of having to commute across town for an available spot.

The way we build our schools in 2020 is broken. Those who are charged with predicting school enrolment must be told to adjust their math away from stretching need in the name of budgets, and make it about every catchment child having a space.

Kindergarten is a child’s first giant step into society; it should not be a crapshoot lottery.

Trouble is, planners don’t do empty rooms, they don’t like vacant classrooms — they work a formula to max out with students year in and year out. Why?

Kid-first math is more than possible, it exists. Trouble is, the mandate isn’t on kid-first math, it’s on a mandate to wait until the need is extreme, reacting only then.

This gets a failing grade.

Building a school only after numbers reach crisis point misses the fact that each and every one of those numbers is an actual child who won’t get to rewind to their early school years to experience the joy of attending school in the community they live in, with their friends.

If you’re like me, when you were planning your family a large part of the equation included catchment. My son was still in diapers when we chose his public school. We moved into a neighbourhood we hope to live in through his high school graduation — I cannot imagine having been told “we are full.” Yet here we are.

The elementary school my grade 7 kid attends happens to be on the list of “lottery kindergartens” in Vancouver. I feel for my neighbours, I feel for their kids, being disappointed by what is clearly a broken system.

It’s time to tear down the flawed and outdated way our education system is managed. It’s time to put a spotlight on the decision-makers, check their priority protocols, and if needed change it all.

Let’s face it, it took quite some time for our system to become so badly busted. It’s going to take hand work and likely no small sum of money to repair it.

As painful as that sounds, we spend an embarrassment of riches on education in this province and results are not much short of embarrassing. Even our seismically upgraded schools are poorly designed and void of much-needed covered outdoor space. Why? The answer I was given, “covered outdoor space isn’t in the budget.” Why not?

Why is there not an extra room built as well? Or two? If the space isn’t needed by classrooms, perhaps government-subsidized early childhood care could put it to use? Or seniors could use the space?

We need to demand that our school use becomes smarter, to meet the needs of our most vital commodity — kids.

It’s not about pointing fingers at who and what created our 2020 reality. Instead, it’s a big ask for those with the authority to investigate, identify and fix what’s broken.

Kids deserve better. They don’t get a do-over on some of the most defining times of their lives. They deserve our urgency.

It’s going to take neutral fresh eyes to assess it, a team of people without vested interest in how budgets are distributed, and someone to look at the job descriptions of longtime decision makers and see where updating or revamping is required. The protectionist way it’s set up today does no one any good. It certainly isn’t “children first.”

This edition of The Middle isn’t about casting stones at the government or school boards of today. It’s more about the long-standing silos in need of demolition, because kids deserve better. They don’t get a do-over on some of the most defining times of their lives. They deserve our urgency.

Tax dollars are poured into government at all levels to ensure our kids have access to solid public education where they live. Those kids deserve better from the grown-ups in charge.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.

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