Innovative Islanders Respond to 4-Day School Week

August 13, 2014

“Salt Spring is an island with 10,000 people and 12,000 opinions,” is how I like to quote folk singer Valdy who supposedly was quoted by a journalist as saying this.

Salt Spring residents are passionate about many things. At any given time, this is bound to be a vocal faction about something, no matter how seemingly unimportant it might be, that is happening or supposed to be happening on the island. Many of these opinions flare up and then fizzle out like a small fire does after a short downpour in the rain forest.

Others are major. During my time living on the Gulf Island, there is no doubt that the Texada clear cutting was MAJOR. It effected almost everyone on the island or associated in some way with it.

Another that rated right up there was the school district’s decision to go to the four day school week. I was torn on this one. I could relate to many of the viewpoints of those opposed to it. On the other hand, my son, who was already working at Thrifty Foods (and still does at Hillside Mall in Victoria) was excited about the possibility of picking up more shifts by being available for an extra day a week. He was in Grade 12 so luckily he was not going to experience any of the negative sides of the four day week for long.

Besides writing the following article about it, I ended up creating a short film on the issue at the Gulf Islands Film School on neigbouring Galiano Island, B.C. (If you have never heard of this wonderful school, you should find out about it.)

I did the following article for Salt Spring Village News which for several months was a strong rival of theGulf Islands Driftwood (These rivals appear on the scene but always disappear, often quite quickly and sometimes because the Driftwood publisher buys them out.) As a freelance writer, I did not have to be loyal to one newspaper and I needed the money. I still felt what I did was gutsy.

Here’s the piece:

Salt Spring Village Views
May 28, 2004
Innovative Islanders Respond to 4-Day School Week
by Tanya Lester

Gulf Islanders are responding with creative ideas to last week’s school board vote to cut finances by enacting the four-day school week in September, whether they support it or not.

Pender parent Doug Appleton is part of a group called Kids First considering legal action against the board which, if successful, would overturn the decision.

Appleton’s lawyer suggested those involved in the court system are reluctant to deal with elected officials. Citiznes have the opportunity to vote them into office and then have to abide by their decisions.

The exception, however, is if the elected officials’ actions can be proved unfair. Appleton said they believe they can “show unfairness in several areas.” He did not want to elaborate but siad the Kids First executive will be meeting soon. Alsom they need to fund raise to cover legal costs.

“The (school board’s) members made their decision from the start,” Appleton said. “They are looking for job security for themselves.”

Many outer islanders believe the extra length of the four days in the shorter school week will cause students added hardship especially in the winter when they will leave for the water taxi in the dark and return home in the dark.

There are those from the Outer Islands who believe it worth the sacrifice. These include Russ Searle who moved to cut 29 Fridays from future school years. At the May 19 board meeting, he said even though he has two daughters who use the water taxi, saving school programs for them is a more important alternative than keeping the shorter five-day weeks.

Saturna trustee Susanne Middleditch seconded Searle’s motion. She spoke of a student tapping her on the shoulder while riding the water taxi one day. The sutdent said she or her was “for” the four-day week.

Galiano students commuting to the Gulf Islands Secondary School (GISS) would have suffered most as they now are the first to board the water taxi in the mornings and last to disembark from it in the evenings.

Galiano trustee Bonnie MacHillivray, the only board member to vote against the four-day school week, said water taxi schedule adjustments will be made beginning in September 2004. Students on her island will still be picked up first but they will also be dropped off first in the afternoon.

Kim Hunter, a Waldorf kindergarten teacher with five years experience on Salt Spring, is not opposed to the four-day school week switch in the public system but questions the validity of lengthening the school days. “Kids and teachers will end up burning out,” she said, adding that the Gulf Islands have excellent teachers.

Hunter has taught three-day school weeks that begin in September and end in April for the last two years. Although most Waldorf schools operate on the five-day school weekm she said the shorter week was arranged on Salt Spring to accommodate parents and students who wanted to attend the private school.

For many Gulf Islands parents (dependant on the tourist trade) summer is not a holiday, she pointed out. Parents of her students get to spend more time with their children in May and June before the busy season. The result is the children do not get bored with school because of lengthy days and months. “They totally love it,” said Hunter.

She said parents work out day care or spend more time with their children. The Gulf Islands is populated with creative people who can solve this problem. For example, four parents could get together and take turns doing daycare for all their children, once every four weeks, Hunter suggested.

Lisa Bleskie of Tree Frog Daycare agrees some parents will band together in this way to provide Friday care for their children. Bleskie is also working with Judy Raddysh, Fulford Elementary School principal, on possibly setting up day care on Fridays at the school. Bleskie said a survey will be sent out to parents to determine if child-care in the school would be financially viable for Tree Frog.

A problem with day care subsidies is they have been reduced by the current provincial government, said Bleskie. Also, for those who qualify for subsidies, the rate decreases as the child gets older. Parents of three to five year olds recieve $18.40 a day in subsidies for a child or about half the rate paid to the day care. Children from Grade One and up get only $8.65 a day.

“By the time your child is in grade one, you think you’ve finished paying for child care,” is how one parent put it to Bleskie.

If the program goes ahead, it would operate out of one school classroom with access to the library and gymnasium. Bleskie said day care for older children is less stuctured than for the younger with a higher child ratio per child-care worker. It is still more stuctured “than hanging out in the park with your buddies.” A special license needs to be applied for soon so it can be processed in time for September.

Hunter said if students are concerned about not being able to participate in after-school extracurricular activities because of the lengthened days then sports, choir and other activities should become more a part of the school day. This way, students would not miss out on these important educational activities even within the lengthened school days.

She said there could be more homework blocks built into the longer day and more tutoring by the teachers made available to students.

Home schooling is another option many parents are now considering because of the four-day week. Hunter has been homeschooling her daughter Kya for two years now. Hunter asks Kya to “hand-in” a project on her own subject choice (i.e. a research project on chickens) every two weeks. Doing this kind of work means Kya has become efficient in writing, punctuation and the other subject areas.

When Kya decided to take grade 5 level examinations, she “aced them”, said Hunter.

Being in a more flexible school schedule means Kya has more time to bady sit and do other work. During the month of May, she is working at the Vancouver Children’s Festival where her mother is head of security.

Hunter said Kya has been enjoying tightrope walking. She is also learning how to do stage lighting. This is part of her education.

Teenagers who work part-time on Salt Spring have been concerned that their work hours will be reduced because of the longer school days. Both Ganges Village Market’s Mike Tyson and Thrifty Foods owner-operator Dan Lee say they will make necessary adjustments to students who will still be able to work for them outside school hours.

“We’ll do what we need to do to make it work for our students,” Lee said. “They are an integral part of our staff.”

Lee pointed out employees with younger children will likely want to be home with them on Fridays when the four-day school week takes effect in the fall. GISS students will then get more shifts on Fridays. From Mondays to Thursdays, students will probably being work at 4:30 pm instead of 4pm as they do not and perhaps work a bit later.

Lee said there are 110 staff at Thrifty Foods so adjustments are always being made anyway. He said his three teenagers (one works at Thrifty Foods) do not have opinions one way or the other about the four-day school week.

Hunter probably summed it up for a lot of people when she said, “Most people move to Salt Spring so they can have more freedom in their lives…School is a big stucture..It takes a village to raise a child.”
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