I’ve lived in Vancouver for most of my life. I was born here and grew up here. So were my mother and grandfather – our family here goes back well over 100 years. I moved back here from England five years ago, after my dad died and my mother was diagnosed with dementia. My son was born here, and, I thought, would grow up here as well. But that’s no longer an option.
James will start school in a year and a half. Having a bit of an interest in education, I started considering options fairly early. And I’ve discovered that, for us, there really are no options. James has a speech delay – nothing severe – he had hearing problems as a baby which were fixed with minor surgery last summer. His hearing is back to normal, and, after weekly sessions with a speech pathologist for the past two years, his speech is rapidly approaching normal for his age. But he still can be difficult to understand, he still struggles with pronunciation. We’re really lucky with the preschool/daycare he’s at – small group sizes and amazing teachers mean he gets the support he needs. Most of his peers have strong English skills, so language is modelled clearly for him, and he’s developed friendships and social skills. But preschool isn’t going to last forever.
The primary school in our area is 61% ESL, or, as the Vancouver School Board now refers to them, English Language Learners. That’s an overall percentage – according to the school website, “almost all” students enter Kindergarten without adequate English skills. Sure there’s support (i.e. money thrown at the problem), but in a system so badly underfunded, with up to 22 students per teacher in a Kindergarten class, the extra funding schools get for ELL students doesn’t really do much. The school website also notes that it’s “rare” to hear English spoken on the school ground. How is a kid whose parents still struggle to understand him at times supposed to develop social relationships in a situation like that? How is a kid who’s really clever – “exceptionally gifted” according to his preschool teacher (though the fact he regularly walks into walls might indicate otherwise) – going to get the chance to develop academically when all the teacher’s efforts have to go towards bringing the other 20 kids in his class up to even a basic level of fluency?
What other options do we have?
We’re lucky that we’d be able to afford the $20K per year tuition charged by private schools in the area. But there are only three local private schools that are either co-ed or boys only within a reasonable commute. And none of them intake for Kindergarten. We applied for one that intakes for pre-kindergarten – we’re on the waitlist, but the competition for spots is incredible (over 150 applicants for 28 spaces). As James is still behind in speech and they don’t offer any support for such students, I know it’s unlikely we’ll get in. So unless we wait till grade one, and hope his language is up to private school standards by then, we’re out of luck.
We could apply to a public school out of catchment, but any extra spaces are awarded on a lottery basis. We’re on the affluent west side of Vancouver, meaning the demand for those spaces from students in less advantaged areas is massive. I’m not going to leave my son’s education up to a roll of the dice.
I could give up my career and home school – I am a fully qualified teacher after all. But it’s not the best decision for James – as an only child I think he needs the social interaction and diversity of a classroom. I also know myself well enough to realise I’m a far better mother because I have a career – I love my kid immensely, but I’m not meant to be a stay-at-home mom or stay-at-home educator.
And all this is purely instrumental, logistical. I’ve not even touched on the beliefs I have about our education system (hint: it’s beyond broken) or the reservations I have about private schools (I came out of one of the elite private schools here academically strong, socially inept, and devoid of self-confidence).
So I suppose 18 months from now we’ll be packing up and leaving. Vancouver is a great city in many ways, but there’s something really flawed when people end up in situations like this.
So long Vancouver, it’s been a slice.