Four of eight Tri-City public elementary schools being considered for closure have higher numbers of vulnerable students and could lose valuable programs and services if they close, says Susan Foster, the Tri-Cities’ community development co-ordinator for early childhood development.
She told trustees during a school closure meeting Tuesday neighbourhood schools are ideal for programs that help families and prepare children for school. But pre-school, child care and family resource programs will be displaced if schools shut down, Foster said.
She said filling empty classrooms with community based programs has kept schools open in other districts.
One idea would be to put Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) services in schools instead of stand-alone buildings far from people they serve.
Dan Bibby, MCFD community manager, said the Tri-Cities branch is looking at establishing five neighbourhood centres and schools are an ideal location. Two centres are being looked at in the east and west sides of the region. Putting them in schools and making it so classrooms, not program offices, are used to calculate school utilization rates could keep schools open while enrolment declines, he said.
Marilyn Craig, chair of Share Family and Community Services Society, said students from vulnerable families are less resilient when facing change and trustees should take that into consideration when closing schools.
Families in which English is not the first language, those who come to Canada as refugees or live in poverty, rely on the school for support and as a place to meet to reduce their isolation, Craig said.
The schools “represent a larger part of all they have,” Craig said.