Greater Victoria elementary, middle and high school students walked out on Monday (April 4) to protest potential cuts of schools music and counselling programs.
Nearly 200 students lined the sidewalks outside the Greater Victoria School Board office on Boleskin Road at 1:30 p.m., where shouts of encouragement from one side of the brightly coloured picket line to the other were drowned out by the consistent honking of excited-looking commuters.
Eighth-grade Colquitz Middle School student Quinn McBride said she’d be at the then-lively student protest until 6 p.m., regardless of the day’s sleet, rain and hail. McBride, who helped to organize her school’s walkout, said budget cuts proposed by School District 61 (SD 61) would reduce choir to one lesson per week and cut string instruments entirely from elementary and middle schools. Both would mean the end of elementary and middle school theatre, she said.
The potential cuts are in response to a $7 million deficit, according to a March 10 SD 61 meeting.
Daytime janitors are also on the chopping board, which McBride said she didn’t think was smart given the COVID pandemic. “You go into school bathrooms, even with the daytime custodial services that we have, and they’re messy and scary sometimes,” said Elena Marchesan, a Grade 10 student at Esquimalt High.
The district’s in-school counselling services could also be re-prioritized. Samara Dolinsky, also in Grade 10 at Esquimalt, said that decision could have a worse impact on already present anxiety. “It’s not easy to lose something you’re relying on,” she said. “The idea of a change (to services) can really affect how you feel about it.”
Although none were present at the student walkout, sixth-grade Colquitz Middle School student Deanna Lester said a number of teachers have been crushed by the school district’s proposal. Lester assumes her music teacher will be out of a job.
Lester also imagines sadness and depression from the next six years of her schooling without adequate music programming. “I wouldn’t like it at all. My life is pretty much music,” the young violinist said.
Band and music programs are the only avenues for connections outside of grade and class aside from sports, Marchesan said. She wouldn’t get to see Dolinsky, her lifelong friend, without it.
“I felt supported by the school system, flawed though it may be,” Dolinsky said. “Now, less so. I find that quite disappointing.”
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