Airdrie mother Shelby Santer has grave concerns over what she is observing as a parent of a child who is attending Herons Crossing School currently, and one that will be in school soon. According to Santer, Herons Crossing School is over 100 per cent utilization.
"As of September 30, the total number of students enrolled at Herons Crossing School was 914, an increase of 42 from the 2021/22 school year. This correlates to a utilization rate of 101 per cent," a written response from Rocky View Schools Board Chair Norma Lang stated.
Santer said that all grades are struggling with the large classroom size, especially the Grade six classes which have anywhere from 36 to 38 kids per class. She expressed frustration at the fact that the provincial government has not allocated additional resources for the school and for RVS as a whole.
"It's really impacting [the kids]. Teachers are being stretched so thin, they don't have time throughout the day to support each student. These kids are sitting in an area where it's always loud and there's no quiet space for these kids to relax and get out of that overstimulated environment. I'm finding there's a bigger breakdown in education; what are kids going to retain?"
Santer said that because no portable classrooms have been made available, there have been vague suggestions that students may need to utilize common areas such as the gymnasium or library for learning in some cases.
"In our school, we have an upstairs and there's a space where you can sit students as well. So, I think they're trying to advise the school to put more students in that area. On the flip side of that, we don't have teachers that can accommodate the split of these classes," she said.
Lang commended Santer for bringing forward her concerns, stating it is a critically important element for parents to make their concerns heard. She said that trustees continue to leverage every opportunity to share the division’s critical need for more space for students.
"We will not stop until our students are prioritized by Alberta Education and they receive the funding they deserve to build new schools. While it is unfortunate we are at a point where our parents need to help advocate, it is important they make their concerns known to the government," Lang wrote.
Santer said she is trying her best to quell her child's concerns, but she said she can't promise them things will get better, which is all the more worrying as a parent.
"School administration and teachers have been fantastic, but they can only do so much. We're really relying on the [provincial] government officials to give us the funding that we need and to up their response to the growth that we're feeling within the community," she said.
The overcrowding in schools is also bringing to the forefront the question of student safety and health. With absentee rates in schools being so high due to a surge in respiratory illnesses and viruses, Santer posits that it is difficult for school staff to keep up with cleaning high-traffic areas, especially since almost all areas of the school are high-traffic. But Santer isn't alone in her concerns, as other parents have reached out to her with similar worries, and thoughts of whether they want to continue sending their children to overcrowded schools; a thought Santer also is having more and more.
RVS stated that recently, trustees met with the Minister of Education, all five MLAs whose constituencies are within RVS’ boundaries, and municipal leaders in Airdrie, Cochrane, Rocky View County and Crossfield to describe the critical and urgent situation within the schools and seek their support. Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt stated on her social media that she has indeed received emails from concerned parents in her constituency and shared the letter that she penned to Minister LaGrange.
For their part, RVS has launched a new section on their website where parents/guardians and other stakeholders can find information about how they can make their concerns heard.
"The lack of space affects each student differently. These impacts are important for the government to be aware of and address. As for the next steps, RVS will be persistent in our efforts and work hard on behalf of our students, staff and families until Alberta Education provides the approval and funding needed," Lang wrote.
According to RVS' statistics, student enrolment in the district increased by 91 per cent from 2001 to 2021 and unless new schools are approved, the overall utilization rate in RVS schools will exceed 100 per cent by 2026/27.
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