Revision Inner City Schools

From The Tyee

There were seven different public meetings last year about the need to increase funding and support for Vancouver’s inner city schools, according to the Coalition of Public Electors (COPE.) The municipal party is telling the Vancouver School Board (VSB) enough talk, more action starting with a re-visioning of the Inner City Project.

“Inner City Schools – Where to From Here?” lists four concerns, mainly surrounding the decline of the Inner City Project, which is 25 years old this year. Designed to provide extra support to “children who face obstacles to success at school for economic and related social reasons,” the program needs to be revitalized according to COPE.

“It’s supposed to be a celebration, quite frankly it’s more like a wake,” said Noel Herron, a former principal and Vancouver school trustee.

“This project, as far as we’re concerned, is now on life support.”

Signs of the project’s decline include the end of pre-kindergarten classes at Strathcona, Seymour and Queen Alexandra elementary schools; loss of the VSB’s Inner City co-ordinator position; cutbacks to services like English Language Learning, counsellors, teacher librarians, special education, and diagnostic testing; and an increase in child poverty in British Columbia.

The brief references the work of Dr. Clyde Hertzman of the University of British Columbia’s Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) program in mapping children’s vulnerability. The Strathcona neighbourhood, where Seymour and Strathcona elementary schools are located, had the highest percentage of vulnerable kindergarteners from 2009-2011 in the city at 59 per cent.

The document does concede the provincial government’s efforts to provide early childhood education in the inner city by installing Strong Start programs at Strathcona, Seymour, and Queen Alex. But Herron says Strong Start, which requires a parent or guardian to stay with their child, doesn’t work in the inner city.

“We take strong exception to Strong Start,” he said, “because it is absolutely not suitable for inner city schools. It’s a drop in, part time program, and it’s underfunded. You expect parents and/or caregivers to spend time there with the children, well that’s not suitable for parents living in poverty with many challenges.”

In addition to re-visioning the Inner City Project, COPE’s suggestions include re-instating the Inner City Advisory Committee, consulting with inner city teachers, parents, and students, re-instating the three pre-kindergarten programs, reviewing the existing criteria for designating a school as inner city, and introducing a fully-funded breakfast program in all inner city schools.

Herron says COPE doesn’t blame the VSB for these cuts, citing a decade of downloaded costs from the provincial government creating budget shortfalls in the district. Instead COPE is presenting this brief to trustees at tomorrow night’s Committee 3 meeting because it sees the VSB as the last defender of inner city children.

“What we’re hoping is that in the interaction with the board, the questions and answers, we’ll elicit from them what they intend to do,” said Herron. “We have specific recommendations, but basically it’s a re-visioning, a resetting of the entire program, because it’s simply in dire straits.”

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

COPE asks VSB to 're-vision' Inner City Project