Rossland committee talks about the troubles with school closures

Neighbourhood of Learning committee member Jennifer Ellis looks at the problems associated with school closures.

The question of whether Rossland Secondary School will closed, become a K-12 school, or become a K-9 school is expected to be addressed by the School District No. 20 Board of Education this fall.

One of the primary concerns associated with the potential closure of RSS is the return of the grades 6 and 7 students to MacLean and the overcrowding that would result in our very small elementary school.

Currently there are 332 K-7 students in Rossland. MacLean school was originally designed for 232 students and is the smallest elementary school building in the district (aside from Castlegar Primary, a K-3 school). The MacLean capacity numbers were arbitrarily changed by our School District to 310 students a few years ago, but no structural changes were undertaken. Even at the revised capacity of 310 students, making MacLean a K-7 school would require portables on an already smaller than regulation playing field. It is quite possible that if all the K-7 students had to be fit into MacLean, some students would have to be bused to Webster Elementary.

Even if cramming all the K-7 students currently residing in Rossland into MacLean were possible, MacLean would be very crowded. School overcrowding refers to the number of students enrolled in a school compared to the number of students the school was designed to serve.

The percentage by which schools are overenrolled is calculated by researchers in the United States by subtracting intended capacity from current enrollment and dividing the difference by intended capacity. Using this formula, a 330 student K-7 MacLean would be:

  • 7 per cent above capacity if the current capacity of 310 is utilized; and

  • 43 per cent above capacity if the original capacity of 232 is utilized.

The United States National Center for Education Statistics considers schools between 6 per cent and 25 per cent above capacity to be ‘‘overcrowded,’’ and schools beyond 25 per cent capacity to be ‘‘severely overcrowded.’’ It is critical to stress that this definition does not include portable classrooms. Portable classrooms are considered to be a symptom of overcrowding rather than a long-term solution.

Why does this matter? Scientific research suggests that overcrowding contributes to lower achievement and causes both teachers and students to feel stressed, overwhelmed and discouraged. Both teacher and student absenteeism is higher in overcrowded schools. Students also report having greater difficulty concentrating. Teaching approaches are limited by the fact that children and teachers cannot move around the classroom and therefore innovative teaching techniques, such as cooperative learning or group work, are less often employed.

Overcrowding also affects the logistics in the school, requiring changes in schedules and making disruptions and noise a regular part of the day. Lunch periods sometimes have to be staggered. Teachers cannot use a single room for the full day, and must move materials and children from room to room. Students must navigate crowded hallways, and therefore spend more time travelling from class to class and outside for play.

Portable structures, particularly older models, are thought to expose children to higher levels of multiple chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene and toluene. Children also have exposure to these chemicals in regular schools. However it is believed that they are more concentrated in portable classrooms due to the smaller space, smaller number of windows and weaker ventilation systems.

Parents and teachers are already familiar with many of these challenges at MacLean School. There is only one bathroom per gender and no dedicated multi-purpose room or music room. Clearance between students’ desks and teacher’s desks can be very narrow in some classrooms, preventing teachers from moving around the classroom easily. When 242 students try to put on snow pants to go out at recess, the hallways are jam packed. Students often tell stories of getting knocked down or having their stuff pushed down the hall, not through any ill intent, but because there are so many bodies in one space.

Overall, research strongly suggests that student performance and stress levels are strongly influenced by their built environment. MacLean Elementary School cannot accommodate two more full grades without becoming unacceptably overcrowded. Ensuring that our students have adequate space to learn should be a key priority in this community and in this province. Please let the Board of Education know your views.

 

Jennifer Ellis is co-ordinator for the Neighbourhood of Learning Committee

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