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New schools

Posted: September 7, 2017 at 10:07 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Chaos and concerns cloud first day for some parents

Last week, kids got to see a new school situation for the first time and, for some, there were some unpleasant surprises.

During an open house on Thursday, some parents confirmed their concerns that Queen Elizabeth, with a smaller yard and smaller building than Pinecrest, would not be able to fit students from both those schools. Classrooms were divided and the library reduced to accommodate the influx of children.

One mother, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation to her child, said the situation made her feel frustrated and helpless. Her six-year-old son’s classroom is much smaller than last year, as is the playground. There are no cubbies or places for his outdoor clothes.

Incoming Grade 7 and 8 students sidestep equipment during a tour of PECI last Wednesday. The state of the school meant they could not visit their classrooms, and left some parents concerned about the HPEDSB’s preparedness for the new Grade 7 to 12

“Their classrooms are very tiny. There isn’t even room for the teacher to have a desk,” she says.

Despite difficulty socializing, he was put into a class with only three other kids from Pinecrest, none of whom he had interacted with at that school.

“It’s going to be tough enough taking them away from their school and putting them into another school that they don’t know anything about without removing them from their peers,” she adds. “[The teachers] basically told me that he could see his friends at recess time. And then the teacher says, ‘but we don’t know how recess is going to work now, because there isn’t room for everybody to be outside all at once.’”

She’s unable to register him at St. Gregory, and because of the bus routes, she can’t send him to CML instead, either.

“We’re stuck. This is our only option,” the mother told The Times. “I feel helpless. Because there’s so many concerns… in orientation, I took him in, and everything in there is so chaotic. Even the bus schedule is messed up.”

Wendy Lavender has three children, who started this week in Grades 5, 8 and 10. Her two youngest are moving from Pinecrest to Queen Elizabeth and PECI. She feels that a lack of communication over the summer and a lack of supports in place for transitioning students belies the school board’s message that the priority during the changes and the reason for them was to put students first.

“As far as putting children first and that being the main priority of the board with this transition, I would say that they have significantly failed on that priority,” says Lavender. “Lack of communication from the board on all fronts. Parents required to do their own research and their own digging for information as to what bus your children go on, who their teachers are, where to go especially in the high school… they were not reaching out.”

Lavender was surprised to see that orientation sessions for new students were only advertised on Facebook, leaving out parents who don’t use the platform, and were held during the day.

While she missed the session at Queen Elizabeth school, she did attend the orientation session held Tuesday for Grades 7 and 8. The state of the school mortified her.

“It was nowhere even close to acceptable. The hall was filled with tables and chairs and boxes. There were wires hanging from the ceiling. They were painting,” she says. “It looked like they had just emptied the classrooms into the hallways, and that was last Tuesday.”

It was also frustrating to learn that Grade 7 and 8 library resources, principals and guidance counsellors would not be available onsite, rather down the street at the elementary school. Lavender worries about the lack of support for students. She has reached out to the board about this concern, but has not yet received a response.

Grade 7 and 8 students from both Pinecrest and Queen Elizabeth got to check out PECI for the first time during an open house on Wednesday. Because work on the school had not yet been completed, the kids were unable to view their classrooms, and walked around construction materials and under open electrical work as they made their way through the school.

Mack Mulridge, who is going into Grade 8 at PECI this year, wasn’t too worried about the state of affairs. He enjoyed orientation, even if the school was still a bit messy.

“It was pretty fun. I got to see a lot of my friends. A lot of them aren’t in my class, but it was nice seeing them,” says Mack. “The only gripe I have about it is the time. Because I have to wake up early.”

Pinecrest had started school at 9:20, but now Mack will be starting school at 8:10. He has to get on the bus at 7:30.

New PECI parent Ute Mohssen-Beyk, whose daughter began Grade 8 this week, is not concerned either, although she admits if her daughter was younger, she wouldn’t feel the same.

“For me, I see it as a great transition. I don’t know how I would feel if my child would be younger than that. I would worry, probably,” says Mohssen-Beyk. She feels confident that the state of the school will have improved before students come in for classes. “They know what they’re doing. I hope.”