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An equal education for all?
What students get... depends on where they live
The Grade 5 Chronicles
The Free Press is doing its homework on how both classroom and out-of-classroom experiences differ for Grade 5 students in public, private and First Nations schools across the province.
WHAT should a child in Grade 5 in Manitoba expect — no matter where she or he goes to school? What are the basics in our education system every child should take for granted?
The core curriculum is set in stone, says Education Minister Nancy Allan.
And everything else, well, that’s not carved in stone — though schools try their best.
We’re following five Grade 5 students from across Manitoba throughout the course of the 2012-13 school year — from urban public, rural public, northern public, First Nations and faithbased private schools.
We want to know how the educational experience is the same and how it’s different for kids from different backgrounds going to different schools throughout Manitoba.
We’re looking at the young students’ year-long education experience. We’ll be talking to the students, their families and their schools about class sizes, the programs and extracurricular activities their schools offer, how much homework they get, how many tests they write, whether their teachers are specialists in specific areas, what extra fees they pay, what field trips they take, how much time they spend outside of class and for what reason.
"The compulsory (Grade 5) classes are English, math, science, social studies, phys-ed and art," says Allan.
But school is about so much more.
The art curriculum lists dance, drama, music and visual arts: "The student will not necessarily take all of them, but students must take at least one," she said. "That’s decided at the local level."
French and other languages, including aboriginal languages, are optional in Grade 5.
And while school divisions try to ensure teachers with a variety of skills are assigned to small schools, says Allan, there’s no guarantee specialists will teach music, phys-ed and art.
"They’re not mandated," Allan said. "Schools do offer extracurricular activities. All kinds of great things are happening."
Sports teams and performing arts are great ways to enhance education, but unless they’re part of a course during the school day, they’re optional everywhere, said Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson.
"The phys-ed teacher is not required to coach teams. The music teacher is not required to run a choir or band," he said.
When parents walk into a school, they see their child’s teacher and their child’s principal, says Olson. But when the head of the teachers’ union walks into a school, "what we see is when can we get a resource teacher, whether we can get a psychological assessment in a week, a month or three years."
It’s not realistic that a child in a small or remote school will get the teaching specialists in music, art and physical education that a child in a large urban school would expect, though that’s the ideal, says Olson.
But those children should receive an education that’s just as good as any other child’s, wherever they go to school, he declared.
Every child in Manitoba "should be receiving the full Manitoba curriculum with all the resources they need to do that successfully," Olson said.
That includes classroom materials, speech pathology, social workers, physical-education equipment, resource teachers, reading clinicians and staff available to do diagnostic and other assessments.
Allan could not immediately say how quickly a child anywhere in the system can access a resource teacher, clinician or specialist of any kind.
THREE years ago, Juliana Valdoria was sitting in a Grade 2 class in the Philippines, where classes were bigger, far less diverse than in Manitoba and, dare we say it, kids behaving perhaps more as Canadian children did in a 1950s classroom.
Now, Juliana walks the couple of short blocks to Grade 5 at Tyndall Park Community School, one of 510 or so kids in the nursery-to-Grade-6 Winnipeg School Division School.
Surrounded by sprawling sports fields, Tyndall Park offers the range of choices you’d expect from a large WSD school.
Juliana is looking forward to "probably getting into the choir, working hard and learning more stuff."
Learning more stuff, such as "art and a bit of math.
Mostly multiplication — it’s easy to answer, and it’s a good start for me in Grade 5."
While the classroom teacher handles art, Juliana enjoyed specialist teachers trained in music and physical education. "It was a special teacher, like, when we have phys-ed and music," she said, recognizing the difference at her young age.
"We play, like, recorders," Juliana said. "Sometimes we sing choir songs."
The music program has piano, recorders, xylophone, triangle — the WSD supplies every student with a musical instrument, without cost, regardless of family circumstances.
Last year, Juliana had 23 kids in her class and expects about the same this year. "There was an assistant teacher.
She takes care of a special child," and helps the class generally when the special-needs child is not there.
Juliana is in a class of 21, with no educational assistant this year, said Tyndall Park principal Gisele Mospanchuk: "We’re really targeting smaller class sizes this year."
In Grade 5, Juliana can run track and field and play badminton.
Last year’s field trips took her class to the Children’s Museum, Fun Mountain, Stonewall quarries and the Manitoba Museum.
Juliana receives French instruction twice a week, in two 45-minute classes.
"She would have been exposed to a lot of Smart Board activity last year," Mospanchuk said, as well as exposure to a special math consultant who worked with the school’s teachers. "She’s also in a class this year with a Smart Board."
Mospanchuk said the school has two phys-ed specialists. "Music is taught by a specialist who has her music degree."
Earlier this week, said Mospanchuk, Juliana’s class visited the University of Manitoba’s Glenlea Research Farm south of the city. "It’s just an amazing exposure for the kids to agriculture," on a literal field trip.
SAMANTHA Holyk has never known any school but the tiny Balmoral School north of Stonewall where she’s always been in a split class.
The Interlake School Division school has 101 kids in kindergarten to Grade 8.
Unlike many of her classmates, Samantha can walk to school.
"Last year there was 25" in her class, said Samantha, but she expected about 18 this year, after several kids moved. She’s been with the same kids since kindergarten. Balmoral School just isn’t big enough to have specialist teachers.
"Our classroom teacher taught music," said Samantha, and the phys-ed teacher also taught Grade 2. Her only performing-arts experience was the Christmas concert.
"I like ELA and science. I like doing experiments," Samantha said.
There’s curling one hour a week for grades 4 to 8, she said. The kids have the super run at the Manitoba Marathon, cross-country, volleyball and basketball.
They’ve visited museums in Selkirk and Gimli and saw a Robert Munsch play last year.
"This year the Grade 5s are being offered an art/band option," Samantha’s mother, Roberta Finnie, pointed out.
A band specialist teacher from Stonewall Collegiate comes to Balmoral for a half-day at Balmoral School every six-day cycle.
Said an enthusiastic Samantha: "I’m going to play the clarinet."
Fortunately, Finnie owns a clarinet, because it’s $100 to $140 to rent an instrument. Charging for instruments is standard, Interlake School Division superintendent Ross Metcalfe said: "The board has pumped a lot of funds into the band program, but still not enough for every child to have one. We’ve eliminated fees in many areas."
Art instruction still carries a fee. "They’ve had an art option. It’s an extra cost," around $15 for materials, Finnie said.
As for French, Samantha said, "We don’t take it very much. We had one (French teacher), but she left."
Said dad Kyle Holyk: "I’ve never seen you bring any French homework home."
Metcalfe describes the French instruction Samantha will receive as basic French programming.
Split classes are a reality in smaller rural schools, and they create another challenge. Samantha said the younger kids take the same lessons as the older kids in the split class. "Last year, we did practically everything they did."
The same lessons? "Pretty much, yes. For social and science, we had different tests."
The way the split classes worked over the years, said Finnie, Samantha didn’t take the Grade 3 curriculum.
"Balmoral, 101 students, nine grades — the size of the school, it probably always will be with us. How can we possibly compare with a middle school like (St. James-Assiniboia’s) Golden Gate?" said Metcalfe.
The school tries to flip-flop the curriculum in split classes so that the kids end up learning every year’s curriculum, one year as the younger kids, the next as the older.
"It requires some planning. It’s a way of life in the Balmorals, Rossers, Brant-Argyles, Grosse Isles. It’s been that way since the beginning of time," he said.
Samantha’s class will have 12 in Grade 5 and seven in Grade 6 this year, Metcalfe said. "The only pure grade will be kindergarten, and that hasn’t happened for a while." It’s the first time in years that any grade has been the single grade in a class, with 14 kindergarten children having their own classroom and teacher this year.
With no specialists, Metcalfe aims to hire well-rounded teachers who can teach the core subjects as well as courses such as art or phys-ed.
ÉCOLE Opasquia School is pretty big — 331 kids for kindergarten to Grade 5.
Aliegha Hiebert-Dixon will have only about 20 students in her Grade 5 French immersion class this year.
The Kelsey School Division school in The Pas has avoided split classes or classes with more than 30 students.
"We are definitely more limited in the north, but the school does make every effort to offer as much variety as they can," said Aliegha’s mother, Cindy.
"There are two full-time phys-ed teachers. There is not a full-time art teacher, but there are art classes. There is no musical/drama production beyond the December Christmas concert. There is no band," said Cindy.
"I like art and math," Aliegha said. "I kind of like singing."
Aliegha likes playing baseball at school, though it’s just for fun — there are no school teams. "There’s a running club and a gardening club, but no sports."
Said father Kim: "They do have music," with, he thinks, a full-time music teacher.
"They have a little bit of a running class" and a full-time phys-ed teacher, said Kim. "There is choir, and they do have a Christmas concert for sure."
And, said Cindy, "once a month, the school has very entertaining and enthusiastic assemblies — even the parents like to attend as they are very fun to watch."
Aliegha said there are field trips, but they don’t go all that far afield: "Like Dairy Queen or the pool. We go to the museum."
Opasquia principal Gavin Smith said field trips do tend to be local, but there’s nothing stopping classes from fundraising if they want to go to Winnipeg. Back in the day when he was teaching Grade 4, classes would go to the circus in Winnipeg every year.
The Grade 5 French immersion class has 19 children this year, Smith said. The music teacher is a specialist who teaches each class three times per six-day cycle.
Both phys-ed teachers are specialists, one full time and the other with some classroom duties. "They’re both bilingual," Smith pointed out.
While there’s no art teacher this year, "We have in the past couple of years had a teacher with some talent in that area, who ran an after-school art club for the kids," said the principal.
Other teachers run dance classes, guitar club or choir, as extracurriculars.
Smith was delighted to hear that parents like the school’s assemblies.
"They are fun. I’m glad they like them. They’re Super Student assemblies" at which kids are featured for their accomplishments, some even asking to sing at the assemblies.
"Our goal is to have all the kids recognized at least once," said Smith.
RECESS is Jamie Bignell’s favourite part of the day.
OK, understandable in Grade 5, but let’s dig a little deeper, pedagogically speaking.
She likes spelling as well, and writing is a really big deal. "I like writing stories about my dog, Benji," said Jamie.
Her grandmother, Pauline Bignell, who’s raising Jamie, said, "She likes to write all kinds of stories and illustrate them."
There are three Grade 5 classes in the large Joe A. Ross School on Opaskweeyak Cree Nation near The Pas, one Cree immersion and two in English.
Jamie is also big-time into running.
"Last year, I was in run and read, I was in third place for Opaskweeyak Cree Nation," said Jamie. "You run and read, then you go to Winnipeg."
Bignell takes up the thread.
"Run and read really is terrific. We’ve had the RCMP come over as volunteers." Kids run, then read during their snack break. In June, they bus to Winnipeg and run five kilometres at the Manitoba Marathon.
"She loves to run. She’s a pretty strong little girl."
Bignell drives Jamie to school, because the morning bus can be rowdy. "We take her in the morning because there’s no TA on the bus. They have one on the way home." Jamie’s class has 23 kids, and there’s a teacher’s aide for a special-needs child. The TA also helps out in the class generally.
Jamie’s Grade 4 class took a field trip to Saskatoon last year and soon will figure out where they’re going this year. "We went swimming, we went to see the museum, we went to the zoo."
Bignell said each class fundraises all year and then plans a field trip. In Saskatoon, "they went shopping in Walmart. She bought high heels that she wore to the zoo," she said laughing.
Bignell is adamant kids on a reserve school can learn as well and go as far as kids in public school, but the federal funding for students in First Nations schools is thousands of dollars less per student than it is for children in the public school system.
"We graduate a lot of people who go on to nursing and law school... the problem is that teachers over this side make several thousand less. They cut a lot of things that other students take for granted," such as books, Bignell said.
There are few specialists at Joe A. Ross; a music teacher comes to the classrooms and holds lunchtime choir.
There are two phys-ed teachers, one who speaks Cree, but they are not specialists.
This will be Jamie’s first year playing soccer, and she’s really looking forward to it.
OCN education director Bev Fontaine explained kids start extended overnight field trips in Grade 4, picking a destination and fundraising throughout the year.
"We do have a music program," Fontaine said. "We do have limited musical instruments. We don’t have a full set for band."
Soccer has become a major activity in OCN, with four community fields for the students and adults, Fontaine said.
Extracurriculars are important for the kids, she said.
"We encourage it (for teachers), but it’s not a requirement.
Most of our teachers do some extracurriculars with the students.
"There’s a huge number of groups — we have square dancing, we have powwows. It’s above average, more than I see in other places," Fontaine said.
OCN students started school a week earlier than public school kids, but they finish at the same time.
"In February, we created a (mini) midwinter break," Fontaine said. "In the week before Louis Riel Day, kids are off school on the Thursday, and then Friday is the annual Trappers Festival." Held since 1916, the winter festival celebrates northern culture and heritage combined with a community carnival.
ImageTag)IT’S a good thing Linden Christian School has a pretty impressive sports program — that makes Stephen Grahl one happy camper.
In track and field last year, "I got first in nearly everything, so we went to regionals. Outside of school, I play hockey and soccer."
The faith-based private school on Wilkes Avenue just off Waverley Street has been Manitoba’s largest independent school since surpassing St. John’s-Ravenscourt School in enrolment in 2001. Enrolment is at 887 kids in kindergarten to Grade 12.
It’s Stephen’s fourth year at Linden Christian, after moving from rural Manitoba. This year, his class is to have 24 kids, half of them classmates from last June. "It does mix up, yes."
Stephen enjoys having specialized teachers for art, music, computer, French and phys-ed.
"They’re specialists," his mother, Myrna, points out.
Favourite subjects? OK, the first is a gimme.
"Gym and art. Experiments, I like that part of science," said Stephen, who’s also into performing arts, especially choir, and looks forward to Grade 6 when band starts. The school holds a spring concert.
Last year’s field trips were to the Stonewall quarry and a corn maze.
Stephen has chapel twice a week and Bible studies are part of his school work.
"Independent schools reflect the diversity in our province... a faith-based perspective," said principal Robert Charach.
Linden Christian starts classes at 8:30 a.m. to accommodate religious studies along with the full Manitoba curriculum.
"Our school really emphasizes band and choir. They have specialists from Day 1," said Charach, who pointed out that grades 7 to 12 art are taught by an art specialist. "None of the teachers teaches their own phys-ed. It’s specialists all the way through.
"All the kids are in band grades 6 to 8. All the kids are in choir grades 3 to 8," he said.
Elementary kids play in friendly sports tournaments against other schools, while the high school varsity program competes provincially in most sports.
"They do at least three field trips in a year; they’re all curriculum-related," Charach said.
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