Those who will be hardest hit if Puntledge is closed are the children who are thriving in its protected natural environment, ophthalmologist and who’ll be the least adaptable to change. The following letters from parents are a testimonial to the success of Puntledge, human enhancement reinforcing the idea that small schools really work. The first two were submitted as comments on Joel Mortyn’s recent letter to the Record, vitamin and deserve to be widely read.
I grew up in downtown Courtenay. I walked to Puntledge park school everyday from Kindergarten until grade six. I know the grounds well. I played “house” in the woods near the stream at recess. I walked children in wheelchairs around the courtyard on my lunch recess some days. I collected chalk brushes and cleaned them giggling through the mazes from classroom to classroom.
I grew up, became a parent and planned where my fragile children with sensory issues and developmental delays would be safest. It wasn’t across a bridge in the east side schools people rave about. It wasn’t close to my home near busy intersections. It was near nature. No cars to hear when playing outside. No passerby from areas known to police. It was my safe haven and I wanted my kids to have that gift. I don’t care what the trustees want. Some were teachers who are now deciding the work environment and building best for their previous coworkers. How can this be happening? Greed? Yep. Only way because not one person can look at all the numbers and say it’s worth moving unless they plan to sell our safe haven as soon as the kick our kids out. And don’t kid yourselves, the money will never make up for losing that land. EVER.
This proposal packages more than one bad idea together: it would close Puntledge Park and also send the Lake Trail students (grades 8-10) to Vanier, doubling the number of young teens at that school.
Young teens need smaller schools. They need to be known and recognised by the adults around them. They need to be able to walk to school. They need personalized encouragement and continuity in their peer groups. Bigger is not better: more personal and closer to home is better.
In the last decade, Lake Trail has gone from being the “poverty school” to being an exemplar of the positive different that small, local schools can make in a teens life. Lake Trail School serves students in the most impoverished geographical area of the Comox Valley, and it keeps some of our most vulnerable youth engaged, both in school and in their community, until they are ready for a larger school. The buildings are definitely sub-standard; the kids and staff deserve something beautiufl. But we need to look at what Lake Trail School is doing right, and replicate that rather than destroy it.
As for Puntledge Park School, the land is unsuitable for mass development (too swampy) but just right for a child’s imagination to grow. The street is quiet. There is hardly a moment of the day when I don’t see some child being walked, kindly, around the field to get contact with nature and to calm down to that magical, teachable state of mind. Teens come back in the evenings to hang around the playground with nostalgia. (And yes, get into mischief. But at least here they are spoken to and watched by dog-walking neighbors who might know them by name.) Parents bring their toddlers. Many days, walking through the patch of “woods” between the school and the creek, I see the remains of a day’s playhouse, an artistic re-arrangment of pine cones and rocks, or a “fort” constructed of windfall branches. Every fall I listen for the drum that calls the children to the creek for their lesson on salmon, which is accompanied by shrieks of, “There’s one! I see them! Oh!” that carry through the neighborhood.
I understand that hard choices need to be made when we elect governments that underfund education. But the shortfalls should not be met by squeezing little kids on the West side of town into a building that is poorly sited and inappropriately designed for elementary students, and then sending them by city bus too soon to the overgrown, too-large school outside of walking distance. That is a plan that will produce more drop-outs, as my own beautiful neighborhood children learn to see themselves as people who matter less than those who live East of the river.
To: Board of School Trustees and Acting Superintendent School District 71
To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing this letter in support of the Keep Puntledge at Puntledge campaign currently underway by parents, teachers and community members who are advocating to keep Puntledge Elementary School open at its current location on Willemar Avenue.
As a person who lives only two blocks from the school, I feel very strongly that Puntledge School is an integral part of our community and I am appalled that, due to financial concerns, district administrators are planning to close this viable, vibrant neighbourhood elementary school.
Puntledge School is ideally suited to its current locale at the end of 4th St, with little extra traffic to impede students’ safe arrival and departure from school. With a large playing field, wooded areas and close proximity to Morrison Creek, Puntledge students have the opportunity for regular outdoor activities and nature experiences. Its location also makes it ideal for walking field trips and activities taking place in Downtown Courtenay and at Lewis Park.
On a very personal level, Puntledge Park School means the world to my husband and I as both of our children attended the school from Kindergarten through Grade Six. We chose to have a home built in the area so that our son, Scott, could attend the school. Although our daughter, Chelsea, was still pre-school aged, we envisioned a school where she could attend along with her brother and still be within walking distance of home.
30 years ago, Puntledge School was known as being progressive by having a classroom for students with special needs. In 1987 Scott began his Kindergarten year in this classroom with students of various ages and developmental levels and by Easter time he was being slowly integrated, with support, into the typical Kindergarten class.
In 1988, Scott was the first student with a moderate to severe cognitive disability to be fully included in a typical Grade One classroom, with TA support.
At each step of Scott and Chelsea’s school experience, teachers and support staff at Puntledge school worked with us to ensure that the best possible learning environment was being provided and our kids benefitted tremendously. That early support paved the way for an amazing, challenging and ultimately very rewarding school experience for both Scott and Chelsea and for those who worked with them.
In 2016, Puntledge continues to be a very successful school, with a solid student enrollment and committed teachers and families. It is only right that we keep this vibrant, essential school in its neighbourhood where it rightfully belongs.
I urge you to consider the many recommendations that have been brought forward to you regarding cost-savings in other areas of SD#71 operations and administration before making your final decision on this matter.