Dear Public School Students, School Board Trustees, Robin Austin, MLA, and Citizens of British Columbia

This morning I share a public letter written by Melanie Baerg, School Psychologist, Coast Mountain School District #82.   Her letter outlines the sentiments of teachers everywhere who are facing a hostile government refusing to acknowledge Public school realities. 

 

 

Dear Public School Students, School Board Trustees, Robin Austin, MLA, and Citizens of British Columbia,

> I am on the picket line again today, trying to remain hopeful. As a school psychologist, I understand the importance of having hope. Through research and personal experience with hundreds of children, I have learned a lot about why some individuals are more resilient through adverse conditions than others and I know that having hope is key. When we do not have hope, we lose our will to try and we fail to thrive, at whatever it is we feel hopeless about. 

> Anyone can lose hope, at any point in life. People who are depressed lose hope that their lives will ever get better. In the most extreme cases, when all hope is gone, severely depressed people may choose not to live anymore. Hopelessness is at the root of failed relationships too. When relationships problems remain unresolved, trust is lost and effort can seem pointless. When either partner stops trying, hope that the relationship can get better fades and the relationship breaks down. Hopelessness knows no bounds, if the conditions are right for it to grow. 

> Hopelessness can even spread through our schools. The children who don’t make it through school to graduation are often the ones who lose all hope that they can do what is required to be successful at school. Some don’t have hope that they will ever have the academic skills to succeed, even if they keep trying. Others lose hope in their social competence or social acceptance. And for some, hope is lost in their lives outside of school, due to poverty, addictions, abuse or neglect – issues that prevent them from being physically present and mentally engaged in school. A child who has difficulty learning a specific skill, such as reading, writing, making friends or following rules, needs to have hope that with support and effort, he or she will learn that skill. Educators, and I mean everyone who works with children and youth at school, need to have hope for their students as well. Students can lose hope when their needs are not met and their skills lag behind those of their peers, and it is often the encouragement and support that comes from a caring adult at school that allows them to persist.

> Children come to school with all kinds of strengths and challenges, but the opportunity to succeed at public school is the one thing they all have in common. As public educators, our job is to educate all students regardless of the barriers they may face, but success for all students is only possible if all students’ needs are met. This is why, in addition to teaching the curriculum, we run breakfast and lunch programs, lunch-time social clubs, extra-curricular sports and performing arts, after school academic support programs, and more, often with the help of equally dedicated and passionate parents. It is also why we need specialists like vision teachers, counsellors, speech and language pathologists, special education teachers, and school psychologists. Providing these kinds of supports are not optional, if we want every child to succeed and have hope that they can. These supports are also necessary for educators to remain hopeful about what we are doing in public education, a system that is so fundamental to our democratic society. 

> Like many educators and policy makers, I believe our education system needs to change so that our future generations have the skills and competencies to face the challenges ahead. Our “factory model” schools that were designed to prepare students for jobs that are disappearing or gone need an update. Our world is changing, and so must our education system. Many educators and researchers around the world who are involved in special education, assessment, technology and curriculum design and delivery have been working on what and how we should change for years now. But paradigm shifts take time, training and resources. We can’t expect a committee, such as the one suggested in the government’s last proposal to the BCTF, to figure out how to meet the diverse needs of our students in our rapidly changing world while the current, underfunded system still exists. 

> Continuing to take resources away from public education, before we have a functioning system for 21st century learning in place, only ensures that more students will not have their needs met. It ensures that fewer specialists will be able to give students what they need to be successful and that educators will have less time to develop positive relationships with their students, which are essential for student engagement in school. And as anyone who has been a student knows, if you are not engaged, you don’t learn. Inadequate funding also ensures that the next generation will make fewer contributions to society and that the risk factors for poverty, addictions, mental health problems and criminal activity are increased, at a huge social and economic cost to all of us. Ultimately, it ensures that conditions are prime for hopelessness to grow in our students and our educators. 

> I have to believe that quality public education in British Columbia is not a lost cause. I know that if I lose hope in this belief, I will no longer be able to work as a school psychologist in BC’s public schools. When I do an assessment, and I conclude that a student has a learning, intellectual or behaviour challenge, I’m not doing my job if I haven’t given that student, and his or her teachers and parents, hope that he or she can make progress, that they can still thrive in school and in life, and that they can contribute to their communities in meaningful ways. With the right evidence-based support, interventions and strategies, I truly believe that all children can be successful in our schools and beyond. But our education system must be adequately funded for the support, interventions and strategies needed to be possible. 

> To the present and future students of British Columbia’s public schools, I ask you to believe that teachers are fighting for you. We are fighting for your right to quality public education. We are demanding that you get the help you need when you need it so that you can reach your potential, achieve your dreams, and always have hope that you can succeed. 

> To the thousands of BC students who lost hope over the past twelve years and gave up on their education, I ask you to believe that there are educators in schools across our province who remember you, care about you and still want you to succeed. 

> To Robin Austin, my MLA, and to my local school board, I ask you to advocate for mediation. I ask you to question how this government can justify using millions of our tax dollars on things like ad campaigns against the BCTF and the roof on BC Place rather than the restoration of funding to secure class size and composition limits and funding for specialists that has been taken from public education over the past twelve years. I have hope that your support will make a difference. 

> To my colleagues in public education around the province, I ask you to stay strong. I know that you know what is at stake. We cannot continue to work in stressful conditions, that are often unsafe for ourselves and for our students. We cannot stand by while our most vulnerable students slip through the ever-widening cracks in our schools. I ask you to have hope that this will all be worth it. 

> To the citizens of British Columbia, including the parents of children who attend public schools, I ask that you recognize the importance of our public education system to our society and our economy. The connection is undeniable when you consider the well-documented link between success at school and long term outcomes such as health and employment. I ask you to understand that teachers’ wages and benefits are not at the core of this strike. In fact, the BCTF and BCPSEA are closer on wages than anything else. The public school teachers of British Columbia are fighting for a public education system that gives hope to all students, regardless of the challenges and barriers that each child brings to school, because hope is essential for student success. In a province with child poverty rates as high as ours, and a legacy of cuts to programs and services that support children and families, the challenges and barriers are increasing, and hope is diminishing, so we need your support. I ask you to stand with teachers to demand that our provincial government adequately fund public education so that all students can succeed, because their success benefits all of us.

> Sincerely,

> Melanie Baerg
> School Psychologist
> Coast Mountains School District 82

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