A groundbreaking ceremony at Keating elementary in Central Saanich last Friday marked the beginning of construction of three new classrooms there, as well as another two at Brentwood elementary.
The extra capacity will be used to house more students at each school attending full-day kindergarten classes next September.
Keating elementary has a current capacity of 40 half-day kindergarten and 325 elementary students. The three-classroom addition will increase its capacity by 65 students — 40 full-day kindergarten and 25 elementary students. Brentwood elementary has a current capacity of 80 half-day kindergarten and 375 elementary students. The two-classroom addition will increase the overall capacity by 40 students to allow space for 80 full-day kindergarten students.
The extra capacity will also allow for an expansion of the Strong Start program at both schools, an initiative that allows parents to prepare their pre-elementary school aged children for kindergarten.
“It is good to see the provincial government taking a proactive role in a program they have rolled out,” said Renee Johansson, president of Brentwood’s Parents’ Advisory Council. She noted that $2.3 million of the $2.9 million construction bill is being footed by the province in supplemental capital funding. The remainder came from the Saanich School District.
Saanich Superintendent Keven Elder pointed out that the achievement gap between students entering kindergarten had grown higher than ever, and that much of the province’s 20 per cent high school dropout rate could be traced back to the very first year of schooling.
“There are much bigger gaps technologically,” he said. “So many children have been exposed to so much more.”
Studies show that during the crucial phases of early childhood education, full-day kindergarten lowers the achievement gap between students from different socio-economic backgrounds.
“There are a whole lot of benefits to full-day kindergarten,” said North Saanich and the Islands MLA Murray Coell. “We are hoping for better outcomes over the long term.” He believes these outcomes will be in seen in improved test scores and graduation rates when today’s kindergarteners reach high school.
The classroom construction is likely to exacerbate parking and traffic congestion problems at Keating elementary, already identified as “a problem spot for the municipality,” according to Keating principal Mark Notte. At the beginning and end of the school day, cars have been lining up all the way down Central Saanich Road as kids hop in and out of vehicles.
Some parents, including Alexandria Gortan have voiced concern over the potential hazard the traffic jams pose to children, sometimes darting between vehicles. “It’s very dangerous, it’s just an accident waiting to happen,” she said.
Notte asked parents for “patience and flexibility,” with the parking situation and directed school visitors to an under-used parking lot at the back of the school.