Parksville Qualicum Beach children under-appreciated by public education system

Guest columnist Camilla Stephan's take on public education and opportunities in Parksville Qualicum Beach

I have read with interest about the closure of local businesses and schools and about the abysmal Fraser Institute rankings of our local public schools. A predictable, but preventable outcome for our area, which is seemingly unwilling to embrace the truth about what defines a vital, vibrant community, within a province whose electorate largely dismisses that which allows other provinces to prosper.

The future clearly rests with the young; those with a degree or trade, a rewarding career, and a family. Vital communities are those that attract smart, vibrant young people, and keep those they have. They create opportunities for the young to apply what they have learned in its schools, to develop, feel valued, be encouraged, spend their money in local stores, and stay.

We moved here from a such a ”vital” small community in Alberta three years ago. It recognizes that its young families are not only its present, but also its future. Everyone, retirees included, benefit from the presence of the young, whose needs in terms of infrastructure, connection with each other and the ever changing world, and the desire to prosper and set roots has resulted in abundant services that all enjoy, including excellent public schools, parks, playgrounds, movie theaters, teen clubs, hotels, thriving businesses, modern restaurants, economic prosperity and most of all, energy. Energy that lasts past 5 p.m. and is encouraged to do so. Energy that spills into chic bars and cafes where the after-work crowd and locals gather; who then pick up their kids from abundant after school activities, shop at local artisans, eat at “hot” new eateries, and ultimately wind up their evening over at the wine bar. Energy that invigorates its people and forms the basis for a community that grows in size at a healthy rate, invests in those that move and shake the present, and shape the future. The community embraces its youth, asks them to stay and gives them the foundation and opportunities to do so. But here, sadly, my children and their friends see no future. There is little about our area that welcomes them as teens, and even fewer opportunities as they contemplate their lives as young adults. My children and their friends are invariably headed east.

From the moment we moved here, it was clear that children are under-appreciated, starting with local schools. Upon arrival, we inquired at KSS as to enriched programs such as AP or honors, common in Alberta public schools. The counsellor told us “we don’t have the ‘clientele’ for that here. If you are looking for that, you have to send your kids to private school!” Our son in Grade 2 did not have a spelling test all year, and our son in Grade 5 described his education here as being two grades behind Alberta. After hearing the suggestion to consider private school for our unchallenged children twice more from teachers, I took my concerns to the local school district superintendent, who blamed the problem in part on the lack of funds as compared to Alberta. So, we reluctantly moved our children to private school, which happily has ranked 9.2/10 by Fraser. Its teachers do not strike, its board, administration and teachers are accountable to parents, its curriculum is challenging, and its students thrive.

To those that argue that private schools divert funds from public schools, I argue that the private system has arisen because the local B.C. public system offers a deplorable education. All families whose children attend private school pay school taxes as well as others do. It is of course shameful that only the children of affluent families have access to first class education here. In contrast, five of the 10 top-ranked Alberta elementary schools are public. However, we have to accept that our decisions regarding the development of our untapped resources are at least in part to blame when it comes to strapped public funding, as are the attitude and priorities of educators regarding how our taxes are spent.

So, is it really any wonder that our schools and businesses are closing? We provide a failing-grade education to our children, offer few career opportunities to our young people, or even life after 5 p.m. Local politics have leaned towards the status quo and offered nothing that would draw the hundreds of families we require to invigorate our community, or our youth to stay, nor to return. Do we have the will and wisdom to change our path and make our children, youth and young families our priority,  or will we continue on the present ill-fated course?

— Camilla Stephan is a business owner and mother of three who lives in Qualicum Beach.E-mail: acstep@telus.net

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