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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004

Schools in action

by Verena Foxx

Schools in Action is an advocacy-for-public-education initiative by Vancouver’s elementary teachers. It started as an idea in September 2003. At the December Staff Rep Assembly a motion formalized the idea. A meeting with staff reps from Vancouver’s 100 elementary and adult ed worksites at the end of January 2004 helped define it. By mid-February, schools had committed to participation dates and times. Before, during, and after Education Week (March 1-5), Schools in Action was in full swing. More than 90% of Vancouver’s elementary schools were on board.

The Schools in Action initiative was VESTA’s contribution to the Vancouver School Board’s Advocacy Campaign, which developed out of an employee-represented district-wide Advocacy Committee, created to support one of the board’s three key emphases for the year: advocacy for public education.

Staff reps became the communication conduits. VESTA meetings at school sites determined member participation. Teachers chose to take part as much or as little as they saw fit, including choosing not to take part at all in this voluntary teacher initiative.

Schools in Action was an invitation to the public to experience the daily lives of Vancouver’s public elementary schools. It was an opportunity for members of the school community to witness, experience, and engage in everyday school activities. Invitations were sent to parents, to friends, to members of surrounding business communities, to trustees, to MLAs, and to the media.

Many of the schools’ ongoing events were chosen as times to include visitors. At one school, Books for Breakfast invited preschoolers. At another site, Grade 7s debated the topic of homework. Other events included a school Walkabout, a Zimbabwean music performance, a Celebration of Learning, Open Doors to Literacy, an invitation-only Family Evening, a French Immersion Pot Pourri, a Reading Celebration with invited guests, a Primary Open House at an Annex, a Potluck Lunch for parents, students, and teachers, and numerous other "come and see us" open houses.

Teachers at some schools took performing classes into the community. Two primary classes danced and sang at Oakridge Centre, a Kindergarten class entertained at Kingsgate Mall, two busloads of music students travelled to International Village at Tinseltown to play for enthusiastic listeners, and a group of recorder students thrilled noon-hour passers-by in the downtown SEARS store.

At each school site, guests were invited to sign in, leave comments, and write a "blue ribbon" advocacy postcard to the minister of education. As False Creek Elementary School, staff wrote in their community handout: Every written submission to the government is viewed as the equivalent of six votes; it’s well worth the time!

The teacher initiative, Schools in Action, built community awareness of basic issues surrounding public education right now:
• Many wonderful things are happening in our public schools every day.
• Public education is under attack.
• Public education needs public support.
• Public education is seriously underfunded.
• Public education is accessible to all our children.
• Public education is a basic right in a democratic society.

What next?
The VESTA 15-minute Schools in Action video, produced by working tv, is available to parent, teacher, and community groups for further advocacy work; contact verena@vesta.ca.

The VESTA Executive, video in hand, will be embarking on a speaking circuit, to continue discussion about public education.

Public schools welcome every child

What you will see in the public elementary schools
• Students enjoying learning.
• Students learning thinking skills.
• Students learning and using language.
• Students reading and finding information.
• Students listening and speaking.
• Students enthusiastically asking questions and giving answers.
• Students helping one another and making friends.
• Students using words, numbers, and equipment to solve problems.
• Students looking carefully at many different parts of the world we live in.
• Students from many different cultures learning from and respecting one another.
• Students practising together, making mistakes, and learning to try again.

What you won’t see in the public elementary schools
• The performances and presentations that schools can no longer afford.
• The teacher librarian whose full-time position was eliminated.
• The hard work of staff behind the scenes, at school and at home.
• The ESL and learning assistance teachers whose positions were slashed.
• The classroom teacher who was cut, resulting in larger class sizes and fuller classrooms.
• The new books we don’t have, but the aging textbooks, held together with tape, that we do have.
• The student support workers who used to be assigned to help individual students, but are now spread around with less time per student and more responsibilities.
• You won’t see the services and staff that will be gone after an additional $12 million cut.

Verena Foxx is communications officer for the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association.

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