What Are Teachers Fighting For Anyway?

C.R. Marchant, H.J. Alexander, St. John the Evangelist, Weston Memorial, Weston Collegiate, and Pelmo Park. Just off the top of my head, these are all the schools in our area, and very soon the teachers within them may be on strike. The reasons behind this though, may not be for the reasons you think. 

Since the summer, teachers’ unions and the Ford government have been working to come to a fair contract. This comes on the back of several changes to the system including increased class sizes, mandatory e-learning, and the rolling back of the health curriculum (which I wrote about here). The most agreed upon reason why teachers are seeking to strike is that they are asking for higher wages. The mindset usually follows the lines of they already get summers off and now they want to be paid more? 

For anyone who has worked with teachers, they know this is not the case. Teachers are fighting the changes that have been made to the system which they know will adversely affect their students, the very same students who are our children. 

Weston is already a needy area, with a high population of newcomers, English language learners, and the like. One parent with children in the public school system volunteers with one of the schools in our area because they know that teachers have a hard enough time as it is giving students the one-on-one time they need with the current number of students in a class. Many students that they work with are in middle school but reading at a grade 2 level. Increasing class sizes means there will be more of these students who fall through the cracks, and not every school is going to have a volunteer to read with students and they sure do not have the money to hire someone. Teachers know this and are desperately fighting against that outcome. 

“They are fighting for the things that they need and the things that have been taken away.” – A Weston Parent

While the concept of a strike can be intimidating, especially when it feels like our children are being used as pawns, it is important to do our research and come to our own conclusions. 

Elementary teachers will be in a strike position on November 25th. For more information on the bargaining process for secondary teachers, refer to this site.

Students Strike on November 6th For Their Rights

On November 6th, students from Ryerson University, York University, Lakehead University, and the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University participated in a one day strike to combat rising tuition costs, cuts to education, and cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

In January, the provincial government announced that they would be reverting their funding model to the 2016-17 model, which eliminated grants for free tuition for students with a household income of $50000 or less, lower grants for students across the board, and the added bonus of charging interest on loans from the moment a student graduates, as opposed to the interest-free six month grace period.

What does this mean for Weston? According to data from the City of Toronto website from 2016, 12% of our population is made up of youths aged 15-24. 30% of the population is considered to be living in poverty, and the median household income is just over $45000. This means that many Weston students who would have relied on these grants to receive a higher education, may not have the chance or may have had to change their plans due to the change in funding. With our unemployment rate almost 2% more than the city median and these cuts diminishing opportunities for our young people, it is no wonder we are seeing a rise in violence and criminal activity in Weston.

One Weston student who will be attending York University in the coming year had this to say: “I think this strike is good because it helps all of us. I know some of my friends were considering going to University last year, but they have had to reconsider because they just don’t have the money.”

For more information on this student strike, you can consult these links. For the City of Toronto data, click here.

Weston Community Invited to School Walk-in June 6th

On June 6th, around 8:30am, community members are invited to schools in the area for a community Walk-In to protest the cuts to education put forth by the Ford Government.

This walk-in is taking place at schools across the city, including those in Weston, who will be among the most severely impacted by Ford’s cuts to education. There are over 250 schools registered already, with several in our area, including Weston C.I., Pelmo Park, Weston Memorial JPS, and C. R. Marchant Middle School. Their information on their website states that they are “ calling for a reinvestment in our schools, children, and communities” through community building.

Already, petitions have been made to protest these cuts, the main one for music courses being cut at Weston C.I. but this is the first big step towards a change. One Weston resident commented on the cuts by saying “I like the idea of e-learning courses being incorporated into the curriculum, but not until grade eleven and twelve. They help teach independence and resourcefulness, which are essential in post-secondary education but this cannot come at the cost of jobs and quality of learning,” while another resident commented “this does not consider students with learning disabilities or those who do not have access to internet in their homes. This is a great idea.”

If you would like to join these groups tomorrow morning, see their website here to find a school that is registered near you and make your voice heard. Their links also include more information on their initiative.

A flyer from the school walk in information page.

A Taste of Weston IB – Celebrating Community and Cultural Pride

On May 29th, 2019, the Weston Collegiate International Baccalaureate celebrated their 14th annual Taste of Weston with a Multicultural Twist.

This is the poster for the 14th annual Weston IB Multicultural night.

This event is a celebration of IB students completing their exams, as well as an event to build community, within the school and with the surrounding neighbourhood. Houses in the neighbourhood received flyers a few weeks prior to the event, inviting them to share in the celebration.

The event featured a variety of different cultural foods, with samosas being the hot ticket item, and cookies baked by the grade 11 students for a science class project. The event also featured a fashion show, showcasing traditional dress from different places and cultures, a raffle, and a talent show to finish out the night.

I have been to seven IB nights in my career, and I can honestly say, it is something to behold. The students come together to create a wonderful, accepting atmosphere, and all for a good cause. All the money raised goes towards the IB program in the school, which as you may have seen in this article, will have their funding cut in the upcoming TDSB budget. 

Through the hard work of students, teachers and volunteers, this event continues to run and change every year to suit the current culture at the school. A group of students who helped to organize the event said that organizing the event was a collective effort, and would not have been possible without everyone involved and went on to say “the great thing about being in IB is creating a family and that is what pushes us to organize events and bring people in. This family is like no other.”

Weston Students who helped organize IB night 2019 show off their cultural dress at the event.

This is an event that happens annually at the end of May. Please do consider joining them and supporting the students in the future, as these students are the future for our community.

The Future Of Full Day Kindergarten Remains To Be Seen

Weston kindergarten students and parents should keep their eyes on the Ford Government. Most recently, they have decided to reevaluate the full day kindergarten program.This program has been in place since 2014. It’s introduction lightened financial burdens on parents, especially those in low income households, by eliminating the need for private daycare and shifting those costs to the government. The current government has promised to keep the program in place until the end of the 2019-2020 school year, but after that it will be looking at reevaluating the situation. The program is an expensive one, at approximately $1.5 billion per year (according to CTV News).Ford, in a press conference on Wednesday, said that “any decision that’s made is going to be better,” regarding the future of full day kindergarten.

In speaking to one Weston parent, they made the connection that implementing full day kindergarten was a “lengthy and thought out process” and that the future of the program should be as well. If the program gets cancelled, and some of that goes to paying a deficit but other parts go into fixing other issues [like oversized classrooms] within our education system then that seems suitable.” Some options the government may consider are subsidies for low income families who will require daycare, as well as evaluating how much time and money will be spent should this program change and whether this is feasible. This announcement also comes on the heels of the PC Government considering removing class cap sizes from kindergarten and primary grades.

Ford has made it clear that there will be consultations regarding full day kindergarten, so keep an eye open for that. You can also call our MPP Faisal Hassan and let his office know how you feel about this development.

Doug Ford Takes A Swing At The Most Vulnerable – Low-Income Students

Doug Ford is back at it again, leaving arguably the most vulnerable with less. Yesterday morning, Ford announced that there would be several cutbacks to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, as well as cutting tuition by ten percent. It seems as though the Ford government is looking to undo things that were put in place by the Liberal party simply for the sake of that, without evaluating the effects it may have.

OSAP funding will be reverting back to the 2016-2017 funding model, which means that low income students in the $30,000 or less per year income bracket, will not have tuition covered through grants anymore, as well as reducing the amount of grants received by those in higher income brackets. The cap for OSAP will once again be lowered from $170,000 per year to $140,000. This also comes with the elimination of the six month grace period, in which students have six months to pay back their loans, interest free, meaning that students will be charged interest on their loans, from the moment they graduate. Furthermore, students will now have to be out of high school for six years, as opposed to the original four, to be considered independent from their parents, and have their OSAP funding be based on the students income.

As for the ten percent tuition drop, this cost is expected to be absorbed by the universities themselves, through cuts to services available to student. Also, students will now have the opportunity to opt out of extra fees associated with their costs of tuition, like student union fees and others that the government deems non-essential. As students opt out of paying these fees, student governments and unions that are democratically elected to improve student life on campus will be left with little to no funding. This creates difficulty in these groups organising workshops to help students network and get jobs, as well as social events to help with stress and mental health problems, like having therapy dogs come in before the exam period to help everyone de-stress.

Many students in Weston come from low-income households, which makes post-secondary education that much more unattainable. Our MPP, Faisal Hassan, is a member of the New Democrats, who campaigned for free tuition for Ontario students. To express how you feel about these changes, you can call Hassan’s office at 416-243-7984. For more information on this, follow this link to be taken to the Government of Ontario Website.

Mental Health Awareness in Weston for Men’s Mental Health Month

Movember is a term that was coined in 2004, though the first events with this name did not begin until 2007. Movember is a movement designed to bring awareness to men’s health issues like prostate cancer and mental health issues. There is an advertisement for this organization on the north-east corner of Church and Jane, which you may have seen. With the focus of this month being on mental health in men, it is a good time to brush up on the services available to us in Weston.

Within Weston itself, there are no mental health services that pop-up on Google, but this does not mean that residents do not have a need for it. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are on the rise, especially with adolescents. According to the CAMH website, 34% of high school students report feeling moderate to severe levels of psychological distress, which is a symptom of anxiety and depression, and by the age of 40, 50% of people will have had or have a mental illness.  Many people who experience these illnesses do not seek help as they either do not have access to it or are worried about what those around them may say, as there is a large stigma surrounding mental illness. This month is a good time to remind ourselves and those around us that mental illness is normal and that we are loved.

Looking online can provide those with mental illness with good coping techniques, but it is best to see your doctor if you feel you may be suffering. There are options. Some services in the area surrounding Weston include Etobicoke Psychological Services, The Etobicoke Children’s Centre and the Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere (FAME). Students can also turn to guidance counsellors within their school, as they can be given the accommodations they need. If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, there are options for you to get the help you need.