Today is the first day of school. I’m standing out front of our house loading my little girl onto the bus. She starts Junior Kindergarten today and we’re both teeming with nervous excitement. She clambers up the stairs, turns to give me one last smile and a quick wave before darting down the aisle. But as the bus pulls away, my excitement quickly turns to dismay as I’m left staring at the Elementary School right across the road from our house.
Perhaps a piece of fiction now, but in less than a year, this will be the harsh reality facing my family and my child. A recent decision by the Upper Grand District school Board (UGDSB) to cap the number of spots for students in their French Immersion Program means that my child may not be able to attend the publicly-funded school only a mere few hundred metres from our home – and the only school in our neighbourhood.
This decision is not just disappointing, but also detrimental to the growth and development of both my child and our community. There is no shortage of stats and research underlining the numerous benefits of children walking to school, a fact ironically highlighted on the UGDSB’s website. As a partner and proponent of the Active and Safe Routes to School Initiative, the UGDSB states that “[t]he benefits of walking to school include increased physical activity, reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, enhanced neighbourhood safety and a greater sense of community. When we walk to school, even if it’s just for the last few blocks, we contribute to a happier, healthier, cleaner, and safer school neighbourhood.” (http://www.ugdsb.on.ca/schools/article.aspx?id=50084).
Beyond being disappointed as a parent though, I’m perhaps more disappointed as a taxpayer. The news these days is riddled with stories about underwhelming math scores, unmanageable class sizes, children struggling to focus, and ever-rising rates of obesity. But amid all this evidence, the UGDSB is moving towards a policy that redirects precious educational funds and resources to needless transportation, all the while overlooking the simplest and most cost-effective way to improve focus, cognitive function, and mental well-being – daily physical activity.
The UGDSB has defended their proposed policy, suggesting that prioritizing children in walkable distances would be unfair. And yet they have already allowed an exception for siblings of existing students. As a busy parent, I can appreciate this gift of stability and ease. Still, I struggle to accept an approach that prioritizes convenience over health and financial responsibility, and one that undermines the very promise of equity that it is supposedly founded on.
Albert St, Guelph On
Martha Van Berkel
Guyaume St-Cyr Lachance
Nicole Michelle Matheson