A letter-writing campaign is urging the New Westminster school district to create more child-care spaces in schools.
The campaign, spearheaded by CUPE BC, urges B.C. school boards to expand child-care offerings for school-aged kids on school grounds.
The letter, which was sent to the New West school board by a dozen separate writers, notes the B.C. government is committed to $10-a-day child care and the federal government has recently announced significant resources for zero-to-five child care.
It also highlights the newly launched Seamless Day child care, which B.C. has begun piloting for kindergarten and Grade 1 students in more than 20 programs around the province – including one at École Qayqayt Elementary School in New West.
“What’s missing is affordable universal, quality child care for all school-aged children (ages 5 to 12). The solution to this need is right in front of us – our existing public school system,” the letter says.
The letter says before- and after-school care provided by school districts makes sense because districts already have the necessary facilities and staff, in the form of education assistants (who currently work less-than-full-time hours).
“Families in our community desperately need high-quality before- and after-school care located at the school their children attend. The school district is ideally situated to open these spaces quickly and efficiently using existing school infrastructure and staff,” the letter says.
School board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal said the campaign reflects an issue that’s important to the district.
“It aligns with the values of the board and certainly our strategic plan,” she said at the Jan. 25 board meeting.
New West schools have added 90 child-care spaces
Tanis Anderson, the school district’s vice-principal of early learning, said the district has been able to create 90 new child-care spaces in New West schools – bringing the total of child-care spaces in district schools to 435.
Anderson, in a presentation to the school board’s education committee Jan. 18, noted the district has worked collaboratively with the Westminster Children’s After School Society, which runs child-care centres at district schools. They’ve been able to make use of grants and provincial licensing changes that make it simpler for schools to offer school-aged child care.
That work has led to new spaces at Connaught Heights, where there are now 54 spaces. At F.W. Howay, licensing the gym and multi-purpose room for child care allowed the district to add another 54 child-care spaces and erase the school’s care waitlist altogether.
“I’m a big fan of what’s happening at Howay,” Dhaliwal said, adding it’s a “strong option” for what child care could look like at other district schools.
At Skwo:wech, the opening of the new school building – which will happen sometime after March break – will provide 14 more school-aged child-care spaces and 36 new spots for zero-to-five-year-olds.
In Queensborough, there’s been “significant increase” in spaces – to the tune of a 95% increase between November 2020 and August 2021. The soon-to-be-built Queen Elizabeth Elementary expansion will also include space for child care; a needs assessment is now underway to determine what age group that care should cover.
Seamless Day starts Feb. 1 at Qayqayt
At Qayqayt, two early childhood education (ECE) workers have been hired for the new Seamless Day program, where the first 12 children will start in Feb. 1. Under the program, child care is integrated directly into the classroom, with early childhood educators who care for children before and after class and who also work alongside the teacher during the day.
Anderson acknowledged it’s been a big task to get the Seamless Day program up and running, but, now that it is, she said she’d love to expand it to other schools where possible.
“We could really replicate this in other schools,” she said.
But Anderson said the idea of using education assistants already employed by the school district hasn’t come to pass because EAs and ECE workers have different skill sets. So far, she said, the closest the district has been able to get is offering EAs a chance to work for Westminster Children’s After School Society care programs after their school shifts are over – but, she admitted, they wouldn’t make the same pay with WCASS as they do for their district jobs.
Anderson said the district is also looking at ways to expand after-school community programming in schools, including partnerships with parks and recreation.