The idea that funding additional independent schools is an act of elitism by the government clearly displays a lack of research and understanding of how these schools serve their students and communities.
When the provincial government recently announced $1 million in additional funding for special-needs children in independent schools, some people objected that it was giving money to elite private schools.
Within the public system, passionate, dedicated and caring administrators and educators work tirelessly to meet the needs of all students. However, they are still operating within a system and are greatly challenged in meeting the complex needs of every student who faces multiple barriers to success.
It is not surprising that a one-size-fits-all approach is unrealistic for the entire population of children and youth in B.C.
In many communities of B.C., parents, educators and advocates have created alternatives when the public system has been unable to serve all students with complex needs. These grassroots initiatives have been born of an identified gap, and an alternative grew in that space. Having this selection of responsive, educational alternatives serving diverse students strengthens our young people, which in turn strengthens our communities and society.
This scenario describes the origin in 1971 of Artemis Place Society, as it began in the basement of a Victoria home, serving young women who had dropped out of school. Over the past 45 years of supporting young women and young mothers, and now trans youth, the work we do is incredible. The value of this work is not just worth $1 million; it is priceless.
Artemis Place has been an independent school for only the past six years of its long history. However, the work of Artemis has been constant, creating a safe and accepting environment and community, supporting students with multiple barriers to success.
We serve students who have failed to find success in public systems. Artemis works with students 15 years old and up to support their high-school graduation. Beyond the academics, we integrate counselling and life skills into our programming, and parenting education and a nurturing daycare for our young families.
Many of our students had dropped out of the public system, for months and sometimes years, before they enrolled with us. Many of our students are affected by poverty in addition to numerous other factors such as mental-health challenges, learning disabilities and/or behavioural difficulties.
This year, 40 per cent of our students are First Nations members who don’t receive band support, as they have moved away from reserves. We actively commit to decolonization practices and are honoured to embrace and support these students.
We carry a waitlist. We receive referrals from social workers, desperate mothers, community workers and public-school counsellors, to name a few. Just this week, one school counsellor asked when we would open another location to serve the students needing to land in a place like Artemis.
Artemis Place does not charge any tuition. We are accessible to those most in need. Additionally, we provide food, clothes, bus tickets and passes, as needed. We partner with other community organizations to offer an array of opportunities, partnerships and supports, all to benefit our students.
We have contracts with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and grants from the Ministry of Education, Independent Schools. Despite these government sources, we spend a significant amount of time fundraising to balance the budget. We are grateful to be grant recipients from the United Way of Greater Victoria, Coast Capital Foundation, and the Provincial Employees Community Services Fund, to name a few.
With the increase in Ministry of Education funding, not only will we be less pressured to fundraise, but we will also be able to increase our special-education resources and better serve the unique learning needs of our students. Certainly, this investment saves public money in the future, preventing escalation of mental illness, as well as bringing young people and young mothers through high school and supporting their transition to adulthood.
Just over one year ago, our community lost a young woman to suicide who was near and dear to my heart. She participated in different systems, yet her needs were not met. The loss of her potential and gifts to this world is indescribable. I know without hesitation that if I had invited this young woman to enrol at Artemis Place, she would still be here today.
I challenge anyone not to acknowledge this as an essential service and call it elitist privilege. I applaud the government for recognizing the value of these schools and getting behind them to ensure the needs of all children can be met.
In support of educating our most valuable resource: our children.
Rachel Calder is executive director of the Artemis Place Society.
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