Tag Archives: public schools

What is the air quality like in your child’s classroom at school?

This is the time of year where our family suffers from hay fever as well as asthma. You’ve probably noticed all the pink tree blossom petals blowing to the ground, but the flower’s pollen is almost invisible. I can only see it this week because it is a fine yellow haze on the surface of my car.

How does hay fever and asthma relate to school building conditions? The quality of the air inside a building is invisible to us. But its effects are not. Ontario schools need a shocking amount of repairs so that they can provide adequate air quality for their students, including the large number who suffer from asthma.

Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism in the States, and we can assume that it is also true in Canada. Children cannot succeed in Ontario schools if they are absent! While there is presently no cure for asthma, current belief is that it can be controlled through medical treatment and the management of environmental triggers.

Air may be invisible, but the importance of having access to good air quality is not – our students need it in order to be successful. A recent 2014 study in Australia found that serious work in mold removal, ventilation or roof repairs has a significant effect on academic performance. Schools that had large budget work done in these categories could see an improvement of 4% in pass rates, and marks up by 0.15 standard deviations.*

Until recently, we didn’t realize that it is possible to improve the air in an Ontario school. There are new options available now for classroom air quality in Ontario that cannot be rolled out until Provincial funding is made available. Let your local MPP know that air quality may be a cost effective way of raising academic standards!

If you have a child with asthma, here are some resources:

https://www.lung.ca/lung-health/air-quality/indoor-air-quality

http://www.asthmakids.ca

*Tess M. Stafford, February 2014, Department of Economics, The University of New South Wales, Kensington NSW 2052, Australia https://www.gwern.net/docs/2015-stafford.pdf

Ontario must fix more schools… and do it faster

Kathleen Wynne predicts progress on infrastructure in Ontario based on the federal election results.  “Now that we have a federal partner with the same priority, we can do more and we can do it faster.”

We want to ensure that Premier Wynne includes public school buildings on Ontario’s list of infrastructure priorities. Some of the new federal infrastructure money slated to flow to provincial coffers must go towards addressing the $15-billion of disrepair that currently exists in our province’s public schools.

To this end, Fix Our Schools sent this_letter:

Letter sent to Premier Wynne & All Ontario MPPs on October 27, 2015

All 72 school boards in Ontario have a capital repair backlog, for a total of $15-billion of disrepair in our province’s public schools.

The 2-million students who attend Ontario public schools deserve better – as do the countless children who attend childcare/early learning programs in these same schools; the adults who work every day in these buildings; and the community members who rely upon these buildings as important community hubs.

On October 19, Canadians voted for change. We gave the Federal Liberals a mandate to deliver on their promise to increase investment in infrastructure – even if this means running a deficit. In reaction to the majority win by the Federal Liberals, Premier Wynne said:

“Now that we have a federal partner with the same priority, we can do more and we can do it faster.”    

Fix Our Schools agrees with this comment by Premier Wynne. We hope her sentiment will be applied to addressing the $15-billion of disrepair in our province’s school infrastructure. The $11-billion in capital grants to school boards over 10 years is simply insufficient. More public schools in this province must be repaired and rebuilt – and we must do it faster.

So, as those with power over the funding of public schools in this province:

How much of the federal infrastructure money that is expected to flow to provincial coffers from our new Liberal Federal Government will you commit to repairing and rebuilding Ontario’s public schools?

Public schools are a key component of our society’s infrastructure – and must be funded as such. We look forward to hearing back from you with an answer to our question.

Kind regards,

Krista Wylie – Co-Founder, Fix Our Schools Campaign

8-minute documentary contrasting public vs. private schools

This 8-minute documentary was produced by the Campaign for Public Education. It highlights the disparity between public and private schools along Mount Pleasant Rd. in Toronto. It drives home the point that all children deserve to learn in safe, well-maintained buildings (not sure two salt-water pools and a yoga studio in every school are absolutely necessary – but surely roofs that don’t leak and a comfortable year-round temperature for learning is a base requirement for public schools?). It also questions how donations to rebuild a private school can be tax-deductible… have a watch!

“One Angry Mother” appalled at learning conditions for her JK child

HPUmSJTyBhLAdYQ-800x450-noPad“One Angry Mother” took her JK child to school for the first time last week and was appalled by the unacceptably hot and overcrowded learning conditions provided. She was angry enough to start an online petition and pen a letter worth reading (see below). It is heartfelt, poignant and will resonate for many of you. Children are, indeed, our future and deserve safe, well-maintained, healthy, comfortable learning environments.

On Tuesday September eighth I, along with many other parents, brought children to school for the very first time.

It was supposed to be a time of exhilarating pride and joy, marking a new milestone in the development of the tiny little embryos that we’ve each nurtured and cared for, that we’ve doted over, and worried about, and cried over, and laughed with, and loved into beautiful little school-aged children and into the future of our city, our country, and our world.
Please understand this: These children ARE OUR FUTURE!

It is right now that we are deciding precisely what that future is going to be. By our actions towards them and by the value we place on them, we are making a choice, and every choice will have its consequences.

As I stood outside my son’s new classroom, I saw the care and attention the teachers had put into making his first day of school a wonderful experience. Each child’s name had been carefully written on little Nemo-themed placards and posted to the cork board outside of the class. I began to count those names.

I knew that teachers were unhappy and that the new school year may not start on time if there were to be a strike. It is only now that I am understanding, first-hand, why.

I am not sure how many politicians understand exactly what three and four year-old children are like and why it is absolutely not okay to stuff thirty of them into a small classroom with only two caregivers, but I am hoping that there are enough who will make an educated guess and do something to fix this.

Are we trying to drive these loving, caring professionals out of their careers and out of their minds? If there is a shortage of teachers, I can certainly see why. Regardless of how much these teachers love their children, there is only so much a person can take.

If I may go off on a tangent here: At the end of my son’s very first school day ever, I emptied his backpack. When I opened his sandwich container I observed the remnants of his cheese sandwich, which had not been grilled, and which had spent the previous evening, chilling in the fridge. My son’s cheese had literally melted into his bread. Lets put the teachers aside for a moment and ask ourselves how children are supposed to learn, while sweltering half to death in a school with no air conditioning, during an extreme heat alert? Oh, and lets not forget that they are packed in there like sweaty little sardines!

I went into the school year enthusiastically optimistic that he would be given the best education that our tax dollars could provide, and certain that I had done everything in my power to give my son the best chance at success in life. I moved into this neighbourhood during my pregnancy, all to get into this specific school, which is one of the best, in my opinion, in this city. It took the span of my entire pregnancy just to find a place we could afford in this particular school district.

If these are the conditions in some of our best schools, I shudder to think of what may be going on at some of the worst!

Right now you may be reading this, comfortable in your nice air-conditioned home or office, and thinking, ‘first-world problems’, but you know what, this is where we live! We live in what we like to call a ‘world-class city’, in a first-world country, and that makes them OUR problems! We certainly don’t have it as bad as some places, that is very fortunately true, but there is still lots of ‘room for improvement’. Are we content to say at least we aren’t as bad as the worst, or are we striving to be our very best? Our children are watching and I’m sure they’d like to know.

This country is amazing. Right now we have celebrities flying in from all over to take part in our film festival. We hosted the PanAm Games. We polish things up and put on a pretty show, while behind the scenes our children being treated as an afterthought. Do we care more about putting on appearances, or building a solid foundation of truly outstanding Canadians; great leaders, thinkers, and innovators, who will stand up and declare, in their words and deeds, that this country is nothing short of the best of the best, both on the world stage, and behind the scenes. Because if we don’t do our work before we get up on the stage, then we are certainly not about to just magically become the best show in town.

I would like to see class sizes no larger than 20 students for primary school, ESPECIALLY kindergarten. I would like each kindergarten class aided with their own dedicated full-time ECE or EA person. The ratio of children under age six to caregivers should never be over 10:1. This is for their academic success as well as their safety.

When I vote, I am voting for whoever has the future, our children, in mind, and that may or may not be the Liberals. While they are boasting their updated sexual education curriculum, I am deeply suspicious that all the controversy that has been stirred up around it was purposely orchestrated in order to distract from the academic concerns, namely over-stuffed classrooms, and overtaxed teachers. The sex concern has been resolved rather quickly. I’m eager to see how quickly we can now start to focus on the logistic and academic concerns.

Sincerely,

One Angry Mother

How much money will go to repairing and rebuilding Canada’s public schools?

The federal election got really interesting this past week when the Liberals announced they would increase infrastructure funding even if it meant running a deficit for the next three years.

So the question is, “How much federal infrastructure money will go to repairing and rebuilding Canada’s public schools?”

Schools across this country are in an unacceptable state of repair and must be fixed. Federal dollars could help.

According to the Liberal platform, their government would “provide a new, dedicated funding envelope for social infrastructure” and would “prioritize investment in affordable housing and seniors facilities, early learning and child care, and cultural or recreational infrastructure.

hockey arenasSurely, public schools are key social infrastructure in this countryChildcare and early learning most often occurs in public schools so using federal infrastructure money to ensure these buildings are in good condition makes a lot of sense! And, finally, if federal dollars can go towards recreational infrastructure like hockey arenas, surely they can go towards fixing public schools?

key Canadian value is to deliver a quality public education to our children. So remember to ask all federal candidates about allocating federal infrastructure to fixing public schools! 

Can public schools get in on this pre-election spending spree?

In May 2015, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the new Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial. This program will “provide financial support for the renovation, expansion and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure that provides community and cultural benefits for the public. Projects under the following categories may be eligible for funding: community centres (including Royal Canadian Legions), cultural centres and museums, parks, recreational trails, libraries, recreational facilities, tourism facilities, docks, cenotaphs and other existing community infrastructure.” Hmmm…no mention of school buildings yet public schools are often the hub of communities.

On June 18, Harper announced details regarding the new Public Transit Fund (PTF), a program to promote public transit infrastructure. Part of this announcement was a $2.6-billion commitment from the federal government to build SmartTrack in Toronto.

Great news that the federal government is supporting the development and maintenance of quality public infrastructure across the country. Fix Our Schools believes that public schools ought to be considered integral to our public infrastructure and would like to see Canadian public schools get in on some of these pre-election spending commitments!

School building conditions matter

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) recently released a fascinating report called “School Environment Impact: Research Study”, summarizing research that has been conducted on the relationship between student performance and school maintenance/cleanliness.

Not surprisingly, a link between the condition of a school building and the achievement of its students was noted and is being seen in a growing body of research. While most of this research comes from the United States, surely we can easily apply these findings to our Ontario public schools and students?

One particularly interesting study cited in the OSSTF report is entitled, “Healthy Schools are Clean, Dry, and Productive”, by Dr. Michael Berry.  Berry states that: “a school’s interior climate, appearance, and cleanliness send either a positive or negative message to students, teachers, and staff. Emerging evidence suggests that environmental conditions that create a sense of ‘well-being’ and send a ‘caring message’ contribute directly to positive attitudes and elevated performance as measured by fewer health complaints, improved student attendance, teacher retention, and higher test scores.

Berry also states that “schools are high activity environments that need constant attention in the form of cleaning, maintenance, and repair.” Berry indicates that maintaining the condition of the school is a necessary and cost effective way of improving student performance, stating that: “there is growing evidence that when a school building is in disrepair, teaching and student achievement suffers; the school environment works against the educational process. Public school systems too often elect to postpone repairs and delay construction of new facilities to divert money during periods of financial austerity. Making cuts in roof repair, maintenance, and cleaning is mistakenly considered less devastating than slashing academic programs.

The OSSTF report cites many other research studies and the consistent finding is that the condition of our children’s schools matters. So if school conditions impact student achievement, why has Kathleen Wynne’s government allowed $14.7-billion of outstanding large repairs accumulate in public schools across the province?

 

Why does public transit trump public schools?

Public transit is a hot topic in urban centres across the nation.  Sadly, public education is not.

In Ontario, public transit in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was a key issue in both the provincial election in June and Toronto’s municipal election in October. There was much discussion on transit solutions that ought to be pursued and how those solutions should be funded.

In B.C., public transit has also been in the spotlight. Mayors in the Greater Vancouver Area (GVQ) have been working together to raise awareness of the need for transit improvements in the GVA. They’ve been actively encouraging citizens to vote yes in the upcoming special plebiscite vote asking citizens if they would pay 0.5% more in provincial sales tax to fund better transit in the region.

Despite the fact that public schools in both Toronto and Vancouver are in need of billions of dollars of repairs, this issue has received scant attention in Ontario’s recent elections and no plebiscite vote is in the works to decide how to fund public school repairs in Vancouver.

Toronto’s public schools need over $3-billion of repairs, many of which are urgent, including: fire suppression and alarm systems; electrical systems; heating/cooling systems; and structural issues. If these types of items fail before repairs can be done, there is a risk to student safety. Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government blames the TDSB for this unacceptable repair backlog, even though the Province is the sole funder of public schools in Ontario and the repair backlog has accumulated under the watch of the Province.

Vancouver’s public schools need $2.2-billion* of seismic upgrades to prevent collapse in the case of earthquakes. Christy Clark’s provincial government has delayed funding these repairsbut blames the Vancouver School Board for the delay even though the Province is the sole funder of public schools in B.C.

So we have a situation where public schools in two major Canadian cities are in need of massive repairs that could, potentially, impact the safety of students. Neither provincial governments seem interested in finding funding solutions to fix these problems and, instead, blame local school boards for the disrepair even though these school boards have no power over funding. Students are being penalized by the inability of the grown-ups in charge to take accountability and find solutions. As citizens and voters, we must start making the issue of public schools a hot topic and demanding more from our provincial governments. Students deserve to learn in safe, well-maintained buildings and, since they can’t vote yet, we need to demand that for them.

*According to VSB Trustees, the number as at September 2015 is closer to $1-billion in seismic upgrades.

Schools as community hubs?

The Ministry of Education’s mandate letter for the next four years includes developing a community hubs policy – a noble concept that would see empty public schools used creatively to benefit a community in alternate ways.

Mandate Letter from Premier Kathleen Wynne to Minister of Education Liz Sandals

However, in pursuit of short-term efficiencies, schools in rural areas of Ontario and urban centres are being forced to close.  50 mayors across Ontario have banded together to lobby the Provincial government to reconsider school closures in favour of transforming school buildings into true community hubs.

Ontario Mayors Fight to Keep Schools Open

A transformation of this kind will require both patience and co-operation between the Provincial Government, School Boards, and Municipalities.  Not an easy task but one that seems worth pursuing.