VICTORIA – I’m in your face, Premier. I’m angry. I’m fed up. I’ve had it with budget cuts. I’ve had it with sanctimonious talk of caring government. I’m sick and tired of your apparent inability to deal with one of the most horrific problems – kids in crisis.
What’s got me so riled up? A little problem at Macdonald elementary school on East Hastings in Vancouver. Teachers from Vancouver’s inner-city schools have just declared Macdonald elementary a school in crisis.
It is the first time ever that the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association has singled out a school as requiring special aid. The association recently asked the school board for two trained adults per classroom at Macdonald. They got one support staff member of the whole school which has 300 students.
East Hastings is an area of unimaginable poverty. It is infested with drug traffic and prostitution. It’s no place for kids.
But kids do live there. They are exposed to the sleaze day-in, day-out. To get to school, they walk through it. And it rubs off on some. Life on the street appears more desirable to them than school or life at home, which for many is marked by poverty and abuse.
"The consequences are deadly. There are literally 12-year-old girls out hooking. They’re not going to live to be 14 or 15 years old," says teacher Mary Lang.
The horror stories abound. Teachers tell of a boy who has witnessed the physical abuse of his mother for years. A girl worries about an older sister working the streets.
About half of the kids at Macdonald elementary have social or emotional problems. Teachers believe that one-third of the students are at risk to the safety of other kids, or a danger to themselves, or at significant risk from crime and prostitution.
To address the problems, they need intensive one-on-one help. But help isn’t available because of budget restraints. It’s become far more important to satisfy the budget-cutting agenda of the Fraser Institute and like-minded organizations than help children in need.
Last week, Premier Glen Clark announced a partial lift of the freeze on school construction. New schools and additions to existing schools are necessary, but what’s happening to Macdonald elementary and, to a lesser extent, at other inner-city schools, surely must take priority over infrastructure.
Clark seems to have forgotten one of the NDP’s credos – the need for fairer distribution of wealth. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods don’t have the problems experienced at Macdonald elementary.
It is up to government to make sure that those at risk get more resources than those who are well off. That goes for individuals as well as schools.
Perhaps the premier needs a refresher course on the effects of poverty. Perhaps he should take a stroll along East Hastings and see for himself what neighborhood these kids live in, and where they go to school.
Maybe he should take his wife along. Women are so much more attuned to the need for nurturing and special attention, which is what this school needs.
It might also be a good idea for the premier to drop in on the school, talk to the teachers and the kids. Who says schools can only serve as photo ops for politicians during an election campaign?
One thing is certain: this problem cannot be ignored or handed to a task force. It needs to be dealt with decisively. An immediate infusion of money is needed to make sure that the kids at Macdonald elementary will have the same opportunities as their counterparts in well-to-do areas.
And don’t talk to me about the need for a balanced budget. Just on whose backs are the budgets to be balanced? The kids’? So we got a few more kids turning tricks, but hey, we reduced the deficit.
Failing to act on the crisis at Macdonald elementary school would be far worse than anything this government has done, including having lied about the budget.