Life With Rebuilds – A letter to my trustee1
February 26, 2013 by realrenewal
Further to my email last week, I hope our Board Trustees understand the implications of their decisions this Tuesday. I will not be able to attend or speak because I am scheduled to work and have not had any notice to rearrange my work schedule. I would like to express my concerns and share my personal experiences with respect to these concerns regarding rebuilds, structural innovation, and open concept schools. I hope I can convince you not to vote in favour of further school closures, rebuilds as they have been previously executed, and large or open concept schools.
Because my children attend Douglas Park school, and before that, Arcola School, my family and I have personally seen and experienced the direct results of rebuilding a neighbourhood school into an educational supercentre. Based on this experience, I would like to expand on the main obstacles our children, parents, and SCC members are facing.
First of all, NO PLAYGROUND!!!! What child wants to attend a school without a playground??? For FIVE YEARS?? SO FAR??? Most playground equipment was removed from Arcola the year my son was in grade one. We are still being told it will be replaced ‘this spring.’ It won’t. The landscaping is nowhere near ready, and the Arcola SCC has raised relatively no money, despite our best efforts. I believe there are two structures, if they pass inspection that could be reinstalled, if the SCC has the cash to install them.
Beginning the month that the majority of the equipment was removed, teachers and administration at Arcola School noticed an immediate change in the patience and capabilities of the students. This was discussed openly, with great concern at the SCC meeting. When children are bussed to school, have nothing to play with outside, and share a gym with 400 other students, they simply don’t get the required physical activity to behave or concentrate. This added extra challenges for teachers and staff, especially regarding the many children who face other difficulties at home. The poor planning and lack of support from the board was a disgrace. If Douglas Park does not have a playground installed by this fall, we will be changing schools again so that what happened to my eldest son at Arcola does not happen to my youngest, who started kindergarten at Douglas Park this past September.
My next concern is that building these larger schools is becoming detrimental to our children’s education as well. Kids will always do better at what they enjoy. Large educational supercentres eliminate the possibility of many special events. Winter concerts are a nightmare (Douglas Park had four showings just to accommodate grade preK to grade 4). There is no room – or time – for older children to participate or practice public performing. Hopefully, there will be no students who will ever need to speak publically, as they’ve never had any experience!
Huge schools practicing structural innovation make field tips practically impossible to facilitate. Instead of one class, or one grade going on a field trip for a day or a morning, you have four classes, 100 kids, two busses, four teachers, insufficient parents, and a mess to coordinate. The amazing staff at Arcola and Douglas Park have made this happen (albeit rarely), despite the challenges. Also, school sports teams are less inclusive, because a smaller percent of children can participate. There are too many classes for the gymnasiums to support students’ physical education classes. And how about planning a special lunch? I have done one, and at eight hours just to put the order together, plus the stress of having three hundred and fifty children to accommodate, hot lunches for our kids will be few and far between, IF I have the courage to continue.
For the most part I am an advocate for structural innovation. There are many positives to it, but for parents and students, it does not work very well in a large school. I am as involved as possible in my boys’ education, but I don’t know any other parents in my children’s classes (at Arcola or Douglas Park). There is no sense of community and we face a shortage of volunteers in these faceless spaces that have been created. The limited volunteers and SCC members are already spending all their time trying to raise the tens of thousands of dollars required to rebuild a playground. As you reported at the AGM, the children who are faring the worst are our First Nations students, those already most at risk. Would you like your children educated in a system that cannot accommodate winter festivals, field trips, playground equipment, special lunches, or community events? This is the system our board is creating by integrating and closing schools, and encouraging our elementary schools with enrolments beyond 350 students. There is no logical reason, beyond being sold a building style by an architectural firm that globally has had various negative reports. http://educhatter.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/open-concept-schools-why-is-the-failed-experiment-making-a-comeback/
My other major concern is the open concept design that has been deemed forward thinking. Originally attempted and abandoned in the 1970s in Europe, the US, BC, and Regina, I do not understand why it is now expected to succeed. Dieppe was one of these schools and if the board truly believes it is the way of the future, why was it closed and not refitted? My children are guinea pigs in a previously failed experiment, and I have never been given an explanation of why I should expect it to work now when it failed so terribly, publically, and globally in the past.
From what I have seen and heard regarding the two beautiful buildings that opened this fall, neither is faring particularly well. Beyond leaky roofs, unhealthy carpets, and dangerous landscaping, the open concept itself needs reassessing before committing to build other schools like them. If adults are unable to continue through an AGM with microphones while someone dries their hands, how are children supposed to concentrate? My son’s class has moved three times, and is now in what the library was so they could have an enclosed classroom. I wish I had more faith in the public School Board – I do not want to uproot my children again to move them to a school where they can concentrate.
When we registered my eldest son in Kindergarten at Arcola Community School, we were excited for the rebuild and the new school. Now I wish we had turned and ran. When my son was only a year old, we would spend hours reading together. By three, he could explain the relationship of friction with speed on a slide. At four he was joking about echolocation in the dark. Now, he reads only at school when required, no longer has any interest in science or nature, and it took many dedicated hours after school just to catch him up with his peers at Douglas Park. He no longer enjoys school, learning, reading, or even cares if he succeeds in his classes. He is in grade five. His father, grandparents and myself have always taken an interest in his education and have helped and been supportive whenever possible. If a bright, supported child like mine cannot succeed, who can we expect to succeed? Even I have given up. Now in the morning when he complains about school, I agree that it sucks and tell him he still has to go.
I hope you can understand how upset I am to learn that the Regina Board of Education is pushing through such major decisions without asking for public input beyond what you have been given by financially motivated companies and administrators. The cost of education cannot be measured in dollars alone, and educational success will not improve until more of our children enjoy the environments they spend their days in, and are given tools to succeed including exercise and some fun special events.
Thank you very much for your time to read this hastily composed and lengthy email that my husband insists is TLDR (I would love to win this fight, if you make mention of this in a reply….) Hopefully I’ve shed some light on what you might not have had the opportunity to experience yourself. Please feel free to share this email with other board trustees or anyone else you feel could benefit from my experiences. You may also call me to discuss any of this, as I’m sure you can tell this is an issue I feel most passionately about.
No playground?! That is disgusting! Children need a playground as much as they need gym class especially since most kids don’t get nearly enough exercise these days.. and how would they have bilingual schools with this open school concept? Is French immersion on the outs next? And education students aren’t being taught how to teach in these giant school houses so am I supposed to wing it?