Names not numbers …

 

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It’s common practice during political debates like the one we are currently engaged in over the future of public education in BC, to present numbers, facts and figures.  But, as Maya Angelou so eloquently said, facts can obscure truths. Truths that are far more disturbing.  Our human minds have a much harder time weighing abstract numbers than we do understanding the human stories behind the numbers.

I have been deeply moved by the stories that have emerged in the comments on my Casualty of Christy Clark’s Cuts post.  I am stunned that, as of this writing,  the post has 16 000 views ( and counting) over 3 days. What that tells me is that there are many people out there who can put names to the numbers of students who have fallen through the cracks caused by the gutting of public education funding in the province of BC.

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I think their stories, the stories of the students behind the numbers, need to be told.  Any casualty of Christy Clark’s cuts to education funding over the past 12 years has a story that needs to be told.

Teachers know lots of these stories. It’s what we think about when we’re out on the picket line. It’s what we think about when we spend an average of $1000 a year on classroom supplies.

Parents of the children who have fallen through the cracks know these stories too.

There is the story of a student who is both gifted and has a learning disability and who managed to get all the way to Grade 10 because his giftedness hid his disability.

There is the story of a student for whom English was a third language and whose learning disability went undiagnosed for years because it was assumed he was not successful due to a language barrier.

Then there’s the story of a profoundly gifted student whose development was stunted because of a lack of adequate nutrition in his home.   This story is the most heartbreaking of all because students with this story have one preventable deficit.

Teachers who work in some areas of the province see too many students each day who simply cannot focus on learning because they have not eaten in days.

I continue to be perplexed by why there is no hue and cry about the fact that school breakfast programs are funded by a newspaper’s Adopt-A-School campaign.  Why is such a campaign necessary at all? Why does it exist in a province that found enough money to fund a Winter Olympics but does not have enough money to fully fund breakfast programs in schools?

BC has the highest child poverty rate in Canada.  And yes, this is another set of numbers but behind those numbers are names of students and those names have stories.  Heartbreaking stories. Last year I did not know that a teen girl’s periods could stop due to a lack of adequate nutrition. I do now.

It is unconscionable that one of the richest provinces in Canada, one of the richest countries in the world, has such high rates of childhood poverty.

It is unconscionable that B.C. students are funded $1000 less each year than students in every other province in Canada except P.E.I.

It is beyond unconscionable that this government spends more time and energy on LNG than on the true vital resource of this province, its children.

Perhaps what will penetrate the conscience of politicians who hide the truth behind figures, is to tell the stories behind the numbers.

We need to name the numbers. Let’s tell the stories of the casualties that have fallen through the gaping holes in the public eduction system left by huge funding cuts.

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If you are a parent of a child who did not get the help that was needed due to a lack of learning specialists or a long waiting list to see a school psychologist, please tell your story.

Reveal the stories that the numbers obscure.

You can do this by leaving a comment here or you could send your story to a local newspaper or you could send it to your MLA.

Our children are not just numbers.

Our children should be  seen and their stories should be heard.

Students Still Waiting for Support …

 

You should have been walking across the stage this week at commencement, along with all your peers who started school with you in 2005.  You should have been with them,  celebrating the end of 13 years of schooling.

You had been with them at the start, all excited to finally be going to school.  You couldn’t wait to learn how to read, how to write,  how to add and to subtract.

But by the end of your Grade 1 year, it  became apparent that learning was not going to be easy for you.  Your teacher noticed that you seemed to have difficulty writing what you knew.  You were one of many students in her class who needed help.

She did not have any support for any of you.

Your teacher referred you to a counsellor who put you on a list to be tested by a school psychologist.  She told your teacher it would be a few years before you would be seen as there were many other students awaiting assessments.

By the time your name came to the top of the list, your family had moved to another school and somewhere in the shuffle, your file was lost.  It would be another 3 years before another teacher tried to get help for you and 6 other students in your class who she could see needed extra help. By this time, there were even fewer school psychologists and the list was 2 years long.

By 2010 the school district’s funding for special needs was not what it had been in 2005 when you started school.  It had been gutted to make up for the reduced funding your school district received from the Ministry of Education. Reductions to the number of learning specialists and school psychologists meant that waits became longer and longer.

Soon you were in Grade 8, still without support for your learning difficulties.  With all the usual pressures of being in a secondary school,  your struggles in the classroom and your struggles to fit in outside the classroom became overwhelming and you began to vent your frustrations by acting out in various ways.

You began to have regular visits to the vice-principal’s office. Your behaviour in class was seen to be more of a problem than your inability to read a short story…

In order to get support you needed to have a Ministry designation. In order to get a Ministry designation, you needed to be assessed. In order to be assessed you needed to see a psychologist. And the waiting list kept getting longer and longer.

But with the help of your teachers, you plodded along . They tried to do for you what they could. You were often one of many students in a class who had difficulties learning. All different kinds of difficulties. In fact in some of your classes, there were only 2 students without any difficulties of one kind or another.

You managed to move through your grades because you could explain orally what you were learning. When a teacher asked, you could explain a concept but when it came to writing it down, you had trouble.

Your teachers knew that what you needed was both a special education teacher and  an education assistant.   But in order to get that help, you needed to get a designation.

By the time you got to Grade 10, you were so tired of trying so hard to do what was asked of you.  It seemed that no matter how many hours you spent on an assignment, you could only just barely pass it. You became increasingly frustrated because you understood the questions, you could just not write down the answers that you knew. .

You began skipping school and hanging out at the mall.

You got into quite  bit of trouble for doing that which got you into the vice-principal’s office but not into a school psychologist’s office.

By the time you were finally designated, at the end of Grade 10, there had been such severe funding cuts made that you could not get the help you were finally entitled to.  And since you were now over 16 years old, you did not have to be in school.

And so you left.

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But no one wanted to hire anyone who had not graduated high school.

You eventually got a job stacking shelves for minimum wage in a dollar store.

When you were in kindergarten, you had wanted to be a policeman or a fireman or a doctor. You had lots of options back then.

What you wanted most of all was to be a hero to people, to help them, to make a difference. You wanted to fix things,  to make things better.

On the day your peers were at their commencement, you were working a 12 hour shift, stacking shelves at the local dollar store.

They tweeted their pictures to you. You wished you were with them.

Your teachers wished that too.

They have been in a 16-year battle to get more support for students who struggle to learn.

They worked hard to get a new government elected in 2017. They had hoped that the new NDP government would keep their promises to provide supports for all students who needed the help.

It’s been a year now.

With heavy hearts and deep frustration, they’re still waiting.

(This was originally posted in May 2014. It’s been updated to reflect the current reality for students in June 2018. Nothing much has changed even though the government has.)