Lack of funding for schools means more stress for families

Suzanne Salter, Renfrew Elementary, Vancouver, VESTA Anti Poverty Committee Member

VESTA’s (Vancouver Elementary School Teacher’s Association) Anti-Poverty Committee is made up of a group of teachers who are committed to raising awareness, and identifying and finding solutions that address the impact of poverty on students in their school system.  They are also concerned about the economic disparity within their communities and have been looking at ways to help all families feel supported and included in schools.  Here is one BC teacher’s perspective on how lack of funding has impacted families in lower-income areas:

Playgrounds For All

“Play is one of several types of activity through which children can learn in their primary years. A natural and universal learning activity, it results from a desire to make sense of the world. Play engages children’s whole being. Through play, children represent their knowledge and further explore their world. Play should be seen as an essential experience that extends, enhances, and enriches a child’s learning.”  B.C. Ministry of Education, Primary Program

Free and creative play, in an outside natural space, is an important part of a child’s social and emotional development and research consistently shows that physical activity increases academic achievement. Playgrounds are an integral part of a child’s learning experience at school; however, the funding for these structures is ambiguous at best.

Thunderbird, a local Vancouver, BC school, has been without a playground for their primary students for over a year because they have been unable to raise the necessary funds to cover the costs. At our school, after much fundraising by our Parent Advisory Council (PAC), we will finally be able to install our new playground this spring. Although we are looking forward to this new structure it has also meant that we went without PAC funds for any other activities or resources such as fieldtrips and computers.

It is unfortunate that our public schools are not given the necessary capital funding for playground equipment. As a result, our families are fundraising for these structures themselves and depending on grants and/or donations from private corporations. In schools in more affluent areas, fundraising for a playground may come more easily but for a number of schools, particularly on the east side of Vancouver, this is not the case. It is difficult for many schools to generate funds and it puts pressure on families who may not have the same fundraising capacity as others. In addition, some schools are now indirectly competing with one another for grant money in different online fundraising challenges (for example, by Pepsi or AVIVA), and in some cases those that get the most votes online will receive the funds. There have been private companies that have stepped up to assist with the cost of playgrounds but ideally public schools should be the one place that students come together to learn in an environment free of advertising and corporate branding. Our public schools have come to depend on fundraising, grants, and corporate donations to make up for a grossly under funded school system.

Many of us enjoyed the excitement of the Olympics and those ubiquitous red mittens kept our hands warm and were fun to wear but it seems unfair that billions of our tax dollars went towards an elite event that lasted a few weeks when there isn’t enough money for permanent playground structures for our students. Now the BC government is spending over 450 million dollars on a retractable roof for a sports stadium. Yet for so many of our students, in particular those one in five who are living in poverty, the school playground may be the one place that they are able to swing, climb, run, play and have fun. How can we say that “we are the best place on Earth” when the Greater Vancouver Food Bank has reported that food bank lineups have increased by five percent this year, we have the highest rate of child poverty in the country, and 24 playgrounds in our district are slated to be torn down by June 2012 without any funding to replace them. All of this is totally unacceptable. We as a society need to reevaluate our priorities and call on our provincial and federal governments to seriously address these issues.

We need to continue to speak up for a properly funded public education system. We must work together so that all of our students have access to safe and adequate playgrounds regardless of which public school they attend.