By Murray Helmer
Soon, if the trustees of School District #27 (SD27) has its way, Bridge Lake Elementary School (BLES) may join the educational ghost town composed of ten other closed district schools.
A school closure rips the heart out of a community, as the multifunctional hub for students and residents alike disappears.
Bridge Lake, a “Community School,” provides a breakfast snack for all students, and operates a hot lunch program four days a week, and houses StrongStart, a program providing early childhood education for three- to five-year-olds.
An annual dinner/auction supplements funds to operate a community Meals on Wheels program, provides funding for Kid Space, offering after-school activities for students.
After hours, the school offers a variety of adult-oriented classes, provides meeting space for local clubs, and is home to the Public Library.
It doubles as the local community centre, providing space for a variety of sports. A Rhythmic Gymnastics Club based out of the school once travelled to Austria to participate in the World Gymnaestrada, giving the rural students an opportunity of a lifetime.
The closure of the school will start a chain reaction. Teachers face layoffs, re-employment uncertainty, and guaranteed relocation. Students will be bused elsewhere, and for four months of the school year, will leave for school in the dark, and arrive home in the dark.
Participation in after-school sports will require parents to drive students home, as there is only one bus run after school. And while the parents are out, they’ll likely pick up supplies that they would have purchased in their own community, causing the local economy to suffer.
From there, it is a slippery slope of decreasing property values and fewer services, with nothing to attract new families into the once-thriving area.
Proponents of the closure point to their desire to fill schools to capacity to make best use of existing space, but structural capacity and instructional capacity are not the same.
Prior to 2002, contracts contained guaranteed provision of learning support, counselling, and teacher-librarian time tied to student enrolment, and additional students equated to increased service levels. That language was stripped by the B.C. Liberal government in 2002, making the long-awaited Supreme Court ruling of utmost importance to our teachers and our students.
What remains of these non-enrolling positions in our schools cannot hope to meet the needs of our neediest students. School boards are under no obligation to meet even minimal staffing levels, and schools are left on their own to fight for diminishing resources in these areas. Running schools at capacity only exacerbates this already problematic situation.
A comprehensive and sustained public response is needed to ensure funding levels for education increase to the point where no school is threatened with closure. On May 9, 2017, elect a government intent on funding education adequately and make school closures a thing of the past.
Murray Helmer is the Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association president.