Re: Finishing school in spite of the system, Chilliwack Progress, May 27).
The touching story of Sebastian White struck a chord with me, and I felt the other side of the story needed to be addressed.
This article discusses how MCFD and Youth Services help and support our youth. What it fails to mention is how the Chilliwack School District would like to provide help and support for these youth. That is because disappointingly, it does not. Last year alone, the Chilliwack School District cut funding from its budget, and that included a large part to alternative education: the kind of program that helped get Sebastian White back on track and back into the regular school system. Educational Assistant positions were cut back on time, with a few jobs being cut entirely. That means less support was provided this year in these alternative programs to help students who struggle academically. In addition, last year funding was cut to food budgets which provide food for youth who may not get much at home, or who are couch surfing without any means of purchasing food for themselves. A quote from Sebastian White from your article states: “The thing is, I’m lucky. I’m a really strong person, I’m charismatic, intelligent, and it was easier for me, even when I was in a position where I felt powerless.” What about the other 200 plus youth in Chilliwack that have been identified as functionally homeless or face abuse, addiction, or neglect at home and may not be as strong, charismatic, or intelligent as Sebastian? What about those children who feel lost and do not have the inner strength to carry on?
Sadly, the budget cuts employed by the School District last year also cut back on on-site Counsellors in the alternative programs as well as Learning Assistant teachers. Where students are the most at risk for needing help dealing with home problems and personal struggles, where they may not be as strong emotionally as Sebastian White, the on-site counselling has dropped from full time to two days a week and the Learning Assistance has practically disappeared. Teachers and support staff at these alternate schools are our unsung heroes and supporters of these lost children. With all the cutbacks and lack of support from a District whose graduating students are lagging behind, teachers and staff in alternate settings spend their own time, money, and heart and soul trying to make it work for students that the District appears to have forgotten. Sebastian White is to be commended for his strength and perseverance; however I wish it was that way for all vulnerable children. The lack of investment by the District of at-risk youth and alternative education sends messages of inadequacy to these students and is directly related to the failure of these schools to meet their needs. If we would like things to change, we need to see support for the staff working with at-risk youth and funding for these schools increased rather than drastically decreased in order to ensure the success of these children for the future.
Name withheld by request