School academies draw fire

Is the Chilliwack school district becoming over-saturated with academies?

Katharin Midzain, president of the Chilliwack Teachers' Association, thinks so.

At Tuesday night's school board meeting, two new academies were approved in principle by trustees: a golf academy at Sardis secondary and a hockey academy at Strathcona elementary.

This comes one meeting after the board approved in principle an outdoor education academy at Vedder middle school – adding to the hockey and baseball academies at Sardis secondary, the hockey academy at Chilliwack middle, and the soccer academy at Mt. Slesse middle already in place.

All of the academies are fee-based programs, costing anywhere from $800-$2,000.

Midzain argued they were elitist.

"I want trustees to really think about what bringing all these academies to a public education system that's supposed to be free, accessible and equal for all students is really doing," said Midzain.

"When students are having to pay $800 to $2,000 to participate, that's not free, accessible or equal."

While Midzain said the academies are creating a two-tiered system, dividing the haves and the have-nots, those within the academies disagree.

They believe these academies are providing students with more choice, are in line with the government's push away from the "outdated" bricks and mortar style of teaching, and are reaching students in a way that textbooks sometimes fail to.

"This would bring learning outside of the classroom and into the real world," Jason Shea, co-teacher of the outdoor education academy at VMS, said at the Feb. 28 board meeting.

Bob Young, principal of Strathcona elementary, who helped develop Chilliwack's first academy at CMS six years ago, said the academies are far too valuable not to offer.

They give students choice and opportunity for future success, he said.

Diego Testa, principal at Sardis secondary, said students registered in these academies have a passion for these programs, and schools need to tap into those passions.

Midzain, however, was not convinced.

She said similar programs are offered in the community and they don't belong in schools if there are fees attached.

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