Childcare woes thwart bilingualism: Family declines Mandarin, French immersion spots

Naoibh O’Connor, Vancouver Courier

Sonca Lengoc’s family hit the educational equivalent of a jackpot–not once but twice.

Lengoc’s daughter Sasha, who starts kindergarten next September, landed a coveted seat in the district’s new early Mandarin bilingual program at John Norquay elementary, as well as a spot in the French immersion program at Lord Selkirk. Both are oversubscribed and lotteries are held to award seats. Once families are told they’ve won a seat in a school lottery, they have about a week to accept or reject it. If they accept, any applications they’ve submitted to other schools, such as a neighbourhood school, are cancelled.

Lengoc wants Sasha to be bilingual, but declined both offers because she couldn’t find before and after school care. …

Sasha is high on the waiting list for before and after school care associated with her neighbourhood school, which she’ll likely attend, but the family has also considered private school.

“Most [childcare] programs are run by neighbourhood houses that rent space from the affiliated schools. Unfortunately, the reality is that the waiting list is very long–approximately two years,” Lengoc told the Courier. “So due to a technicality, my daughter will not be able to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to learn a second language. This not only happens with special school programs but with all schools.”

Lengoc, a radiation therapist with the B.C. Cancer Agency, supports public education, but she said private schools offer before and after school care without a long waiting list.

“Talking with many other parents, I am aware that they are in the same situation. And they have all, in the end, put their children in private school. If the Vancouver School Board knew how many potential students they lost due to lack of childcare, perhaps they would try to work with these programs to encourage more funding for them,” she said.

Sharon Gregson, a Vision Vancouver trustee, sympathized with Lengoc, but blamed the provincial government for failing to establish affordable childcare in B.C.

“They did away with the Childcare B.C. plan that the NDP had launched, which created school-aged care at $7 a day for parents and lowered parent fees and increased staff wages,” she said. “They cancelled that and said they could do better. Ten years later, this is exactly the kind of situation that exemplifies the [childcare] crisis that I’m always talking about–not enough spaces for parents, fees are too high and wages are too low.”

Gregson’s comments were with respect to her role as a trustee, but she’s also director of Child and Family Development Services for Collingwood Neighbourhood House Society. The neighbourhood house operates the school-aged childcare program at Norquay.

Gregson said the school board is trying to address childcare problems. Last year’s comptroller general report recommended the district increase rental costs for its space, but trustees voted to keep childcare rental costs at a cost-recovery basis.

Trustees also asked staff to determine the feasibility of offering childcare spaces within schools at no cost to the provider, which would allow more operators to open at elementary schools where there is demand and space.

Gregson added that the Coalition of Child Care advocates, and its partner group the Early Childhood Educators of B.C., have come up with a proposal for a provincial childcare system, which would integrate care with early learning and which would see school boards responsible for developing, managing and providing care for children from birth to Grade 12. It would include before and after school care.