Support Kids, Support GSAs
At SOS Alberta we support GSAs. We support the right of students to form GSAs in their schools. Its the law and GSAs help create a positive school culture. GSAs are about community building and supporting kids. We also agree that parents do not need to be informed when their child has joined a GSA at their school. GSAs are social clubs akin to leadership club or amnesty international club or even a book club. Parents are not being excluded. Parents are a valuable part of the school community and there are many ways for parents to be involved. If parents want to know what is happening at their kid's school there are many ways to find out. Talk to your kids, your relationship with your child will be the best measure of what they disclose to you. Talk to your school's principal if you have questions about the school or board policies. Join your school council, get involved. If you have questions about GSAs and why privacy is an issue there are many great resources available. We have started to compile some here: GSA Resources. Take the time to listen to the voices of people who are involved in GSAs.
Show your support for students and GSAs by wearing one of our buttons.
How does under-resourcing of our public education system manifest in the day to day experiences of Alberta students and families? We hear often from students and parents about their school experiences, navigating the process of addressing special needs, learning challenges and inclusion. One of our supporters has kindly shared with us her daughter's and her family's experience navigating 'the system'.
I just received a copy of a private assessment I paid for to see if my daughter has progressed any since being diagnosed and coded with a learning disability 2 ½ years ago and was very angry and frustrated by what I read. As I had suspected, she had not progressed much except she now can identify more sight words. My daughter is 10 years old and still reads at a kindergarten level and writes at a grade 1 level at best.
She has a learning disability in reading, writing and math and AD/HD. What I don’t understand is how much do our children have to fail in order to get the targeted, appropriate help they need so they can succeed? My child is very intelligent and if given the proper support I know she can do great things.
Why do I have to pay for a private specialist for something she is supposed to be getting in school? What happens if I can’t afford to do that like many Albertans? Is my child less important than those whose parents can afford it?
I have been waiting for the Education system to help her, and as I wait she falls further behind. I am now forced to find a way to get her that targeted, appropriate help myself as she will be 4 grades behind next year and counting. We can’t afford to have anymore throw away years. The next hardest decision will be what will my family have to sacrifice to give my daughter her basic human right to an education?
Groceries? Summer Camps that build her self esteem and confidence? Technology tools she needs at home that are not provided for at school so she can learn?
My heart breaks for my daughter that the system is failing her and we as Albertans are letting that happen. We need to get children screened earlier for learning challenges and get them the help sooner so they don’t have to fail so miserably before we give them a branch to save them. Why should parents have to beg for supports, resources and timely assessments or obtain them privately? Why aren’t we providing every child with the right to a good education and giving them what they need to reach their full potential?
We need to make Education a priority in our province and we need to fund it properly for it to work. It’s either pay now or pay later in health care costs, justice system and social services costs. These children end up on drugs to cope, in jail or on social services as they are either under employed or unemployed because they drop out or don’t have the skills required like reading or writing.
We can’t afford to put off funding Education because we can’t afford it. Our future depends on it.
Children don’t stop growing and the need never goes away.
Our biggest priority is giving space for Albertans to share their perspectives on education issues, please feel free to share with us your thoughts. If you have something to share please let us know
Last week we released Levelling the Playing Field: A Comprehensive Resource Audit of Alberta Schools reporting on the results of our 2016 Survey of Alberta Schools. One of the most significant issues reported to us by school administrators was how schools are facing significant challenges because of the increasing complexity of Alberta classrooms. Our analysis showed that there was a deficit and disparity across the province in special needs specialization and training for staff including both teachers and support staff. Principals spoke of not being able to adequately meet the needs of students because they either do not have the resources available or available resources are inadequate. This was an important reality for principals to share and their perspective will continue to inform our advocacy.
Levelling the Playing Field
In the fall of 2016 we launched the first annual Support Our Students Alberta Survey of Alberta Schools. A survey was sent to every school in the province that receives public funds and today we are pleased to present our report, Levelling the Playing Field: A Comprehensive Resource Audit of Alberta Schools, full report available to download below.
Special thanks goes to all the school administrators who took the time to complete the survey, we look forward to working with you again on this year's survey! Sharing the voice of your school enhances our ability to advocate for Alberta students.
Three main themes emerged from our findings, specifically around health, specialization and fundraising. Some examples of our findings are:
“More kids are coming to school with ADHD, diagnosed and not yet diagnosed, anxiety disorders, psychological effects from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, trauma, and other family issues. Kids are exposed to, and are even doing, drugs at an alarming rate. Kids are suicidal and self-harming. We have a FSLC come 1 a week. Easily half the kids that need to be seen are not because of time restraints. We could easily employ a counselor 2-3 days per week. Yet, Educational Assistants are being cut back more and more; FSLC time is being cut back – FSLC’s are burning out because of the pressure they feel of not having enough time to help all these kids; kids are falling through the cracks; teachers are expected to do more and more all the time. No longer do they simply teach, they are EA’s, behavior specialists, learning support/resource teachers, counselors, psychologists, and life coaches. Often this is not only for the kids, but their parents as well. And we are surprised (well really we aren’t) when kids are unable to engage enough to learn. It is impossible to care about reading and math if a child just saw his mom get high before he left for school; or maybe she didn’t have any dinner or breakfast, and has nothing packed for lunch; or maybe he was punched by his step-dad walking out the door. I have parents coming to me in tears not sure how they are going to feed their kids, or clothe them for winter, let alone put a present under the tree for them at Christmas. I vent, but kids are dealing with more and more, but are receiving less and less help.” -Principal (International Border Region)
One of our supporters has kindly shared with us her thoughts about school choice and we are happy to share it with everyone here. We welcome all participation and if you have any thoughts about education issues you would like share with us we would love to share your voice too.
I’ve been advocating for a more equitable education system for a couple years now. Although I do the best that I can with what I have at the moment, I’m not ashamed to say that most of the advocating I do is as a keyboard warrior. The debate rages online between those who believe in complete and robust funding of public schools and those who would see us use a voucher (money follows the student) system. I firmly disagree with the voucher system and I’d like to explain why.
Contrary to what many might expect my objection is not grounded in its fiscal wastefulness. There are others who do object on that basis and they’ve done a marvelous job of articulating why. If you are a fiscal conservative, which I am not, I imagine you’d find these arguments somewhat compelling and I would urge you to explore them starting with the always expressive Luke Fevin: https://twitter.com/according2luke?lang=en https://www.facebook.com/according2luke/
My support of fully funding public schools comes from two major places: 1) the observation that public education has made more strides towards alleviating poverty than perhaps any other initiative in the history of human existence, and 2) the fact that public funds belong to the public. I’m not going to take the time to explore the first assertion here other than to direct those who object to the myriad of research on the subject:
Today, I’m taking the time to defend the second statement. Public funds belong to the public.
“My tax dollars……….” Insert whatever follow up you’d like there. We’ve all heard it; it’s not an unfair turn of phrase. Every citizen is entitled to transparency and accountability from the public servants charged with allocating the money they’ve contributed to the public purse. But “my tax dollars” does not equal “my portion of public money” and unfortunately, too many people believe that it does.
The entire purpose of collecting taxes is that when people act as a collective, services are cheaper and more accessible to everyone. If everyone who is entitled to those services were to start demanding “their portion” of the monies that fund those services, everyone would lose the advantages of lower cost and access. And the withdrawal of those funds would be detrimental to those who lack the resources to compensate an underfunded system. Let’s think of this in terms of public libraries.
It’s been years since I checked a book out of a public library. Why? It’s just more convenient for me to buy them. There’s no time limit on reading them. I don’t have to wait in case my local library has to borrow it, and in the end, I get to keep my copy forever. I read a lot and I don’t use my local public library. But my tax dollars do fund my local library. Is this an injustice? Shouldn’t the tax dollars that I contribute follow the user and instead of funding a resource I don’t use, fund my own personal library instead? Of course not! First of all, I doubt that the tax dollars I contribute towards public libraries would even cover the cost of the next Song of Ice and Fire novel, even if it does take George RR Martin ten years to write it (har har, I’m so passive aggressive, but seriously dude, hurry up already). But even if they did, losing the tax dollar contributions of every tax payer who doesn’t use the public library would result in the closure of every public library. The entire purpose of coming together as a collective would be defeated and the only people with access to literature would be those who could afford to buy books. The same goes for the education system.
Here in Alberta, money is generally distributed to schools based on enrollment, but we do it that way because it’s a convenient and generally accurate way of determining need, not because those funds actually belong to the individual students. So when the parents’ choice crowd and other people who advocate a voucher system talk about “their child’s portion”, they’re talking about money that doesn’t actually exist. It’s not their child’s portion. It’s not my child’s portion. It’s public money that is supposed to be funding a public system that is accessible to the public. People are free to withdrawal from that system, just like I’m free to not use my public library, but they don’t get to take public money with them when they leave. It’s not theirs to take.
There are all kinds of reasons that parents may choose to not make use of the public system, but it is always available to them. Those who would look elsewhere need to take responsibility for their choice and fund it out of their own pocket, not from the public purse. And no, you don’t then get to exempt yourself from funding the public purse either. We all reap the benefits of public education merely by being surrounded by a knowledgeable population. That benefit is our collective responsibility to pay for, whether or not you attended a public school and whether or not you have children attending a public school.
Public education has been one of humanity’s greatest inventions. The positive impact of it is immeasurable and cannot be overstated. If we want to continue our upward trajectory out of poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance, we cannot allow individuals to chip away at this magnificent edifice, no matter how well intentioned they may be. Public money belongs to the public, not to individuals, which is why I do not support the voucher system.