Mama in the City

A blog about raising my family in downtown Vancouver

Lack Of Yaletown Kindergarten Space Leaves Huge Disapointment

I've got a case of the kindergarten blues and it's not the usual case of, 'I can't believe my baby is old enough to go to school'. Instead, it's more, 'I can't believe my baby can't get a kindergarten spot at our neighbourhood school' kind of blues. Last week we learned that Ben did not get a spot at our neighbourhood school due to excess enrolment coupled with a severe lack of actual space for kindergarten students. While over enrolment has been a known issue with this school for years, and has been in the news since 2008, I was still feeling all verklempt and very annoyed when I got the email saying we were on the wait list. I am also feeling frustrated at the lack of support given to parents from the school as well as the Vancouver school board.

While most children in BC apply at the school within their neighbourhood, we are currently having to suss out other options of where to send Benjamin for the new school year in September. The numbers for Ben's neighbourhood school look like this: 82 children applied for 37 spots, 20 siblings of older students had priority placement. Which left a measly 17 spots for new kindergarten families to enrol and 45 families disappointed.

An issue with this school is that last year the school accepted all of the 88 or so children that applied for kindergarten due to a new addition that had been built. So, we go from 88 enrolled students in 2012 to 37 enrolled students for 2013. Of course, the current kindergarten students have to move up in the school and thus the space is just not available for new students.

Another issue I have is the families who live outside of the catchment area who use fake addresses to apply to this over populated school. How do I know this happens for sure? Last month I had a mom in our Jr K class openly tell me how she is using her friends in catchment address to get her daughter into the school. So, I have to think that if one babbling fool is openly telling me this information there are probably other people who have kept their lies at bay as well. Which is maddening when it's a numbers crunch like this.

When you choose to grow your family in the city you embrace the ability of being able to walk everywhere and part of that is walking your children to school. In fact, we were totally carless until last Spring and we use our car very minimally. Being able to walk to school was really important to us as a young family. Since Ben has been doing a Jr K program at the on site school child care centre, we have grown accustomed to our walk from our home to the school. We've also fit right into the community around the school and it is definitely sad thinking that we have to give that up. So, now we fill out cross boundary applications and cross our fingers that we can get a spot at an elementary school that is not too far away and also is a strong school that will support my child.

Despite knowing that this situation could occur, I can't help but feel let down by this scenario and the overall lack of support given to parents in this situation from the school and the Vancouver school board. Today I talked to another parent who didn't get a spot either and we commiserated in our kindergarten blues together. She feels a bit more blue as she literally lives right next door to the school that we both didn't get a spot in.


Reading books while having lunch. This boy is getting ready for kindergarten.

Did this school situation happen to your children? What do you think should be done with the over population of schools? Eventually a brand new school will open up downtown but that doesn't help with this situation right now.

35 comments:

Nancy McKinley said...

WOW. The Vancouver school board has majorly dropped the ball on this. Especially with all the years before when the same or similar thing happened. You would have thought with the extra additions to the Yaletown school that this would have been avoided. It is just terrible that you have to be experiencing this.

February 18, 2013 at 8:45 PM  
Hazel Forbes said...

I can't get over the numbers! That is a lot of students looking for space in the one neighbourhood. How did they not plan for this? What are you suppose to do? You need to raise some hell.

February 18, 2013 at 8:46 PM  

The fact that this has been happening every year with no new plans to build another school or expand the school there is just another sign of the board not paying enough attention to the population changes in Vancouver. Really sucks though....specially to go from walking to then having to deal with transit or cars for schooling. Mind you..I went across town when I was a kid in the UK..so maybe another fact of live in urban living.

February 18, 2013 at 9:01 PM  
Glynis said...

Building new schools just doesn't keep up with development. New condos pop up, people open basement suites, and it takes years and years for the money to flow to new classroom space.

The BC Gov put forward no money towards building schools between 2005 and 2011. They got away with this because in many areas enrollment was declining, so older, existing schools had room to spare. But you know how fast those home building projects go up! So now that money has finally been put forward ($353 Million in fall of 2011) it will take a minimum of 5 years from that funding announcement for new space to actually open. And this leaves families like yours having to search for an open spot in the meantime.

In Kindergarten they keep the class limits pretty firm at 18. But in high school they just cram 'em in. In this province there are 1,363 classes with more than 30 kids in them! Thats a packed class!

February 18, 2013 at 9:20 PM  
Solomama said...
Lisa said...

It seems to me that they made a mistake accepting all 88 last year with the ability to accept half that this year. I am really sorry that you can't go to your neighborhood school. It seems crazy to me that a neighborhood school doesn't have room for all the kids in its catchment and hasn't for years. Any chance you will get off the wait list? I am pretty sure in Richmond, K classes are set at 20.

February 18, 2013 at 9:45 PM  
Lise said...

They totally dropped the ball on this one by letting all of those kids into the school last year. Hopefully the Vancouver School Board gets organized and finds or makes spots for ALL of those children that have been left out.

February 18, 2013 at 10:02 PM  
Angella said...

Wow. Life is Summerland is nothing like this - all kids get to go to either one of the two elementary schools we have. You get to choose. Heck, I just found out that when Graham starts middle school next year, we could send him to Penticton if we wanted to (we're not going to).

I sure hope it works out for you guys.

February 19, 2013 at 7:17 AM  
Chante said...

My sister lives in North Vancouver right next to the elementary school. It was too full for kindergarten when they applied so they ended up in the "under construction" school about 15 minute walk away. Obviously a 15 minute walk is not a big deal for Vancouver residents but still odd to not get into the school right next door. I currently live in a town of 14,000 in Alberta and there was 5 or 6 elementary schools here. The one right down the street from me has 5 full kindergarten classes. I was AMAZED how many children there are in this town.

February 19, 2013 at 7:51 AM  
Erin said...

I hear you, this is why we're driving over to Mount Pleasant for Elliot to go to preschool - there's no space near us in the west end. It is a bit ridiculous that this has been a known issue for so long and yet there's still less than half the necessary space.

The fake address to get into a better school thing is rife in London. So much so, that municipal governments were using anti-terror legislation to justify going through peoples' rubbish to ascertain whether they actually in fact lived where they said they lived. I knew people baptizing their children in a specific church so they could get into the school attached to it later... it was mental.

This little peninsula we live on just has not gotten the message about how many families live here when it comes to services and schools. Hang in there.

February 19, 2013 at 7:52 AM  

If you have your heart set on your neighbhourhood Yaletown school, STAY ON THE WAITLIST! We registered our oldest for kindergarten three years ago and he was 7th on the waitlist but got in by March, and our good friends were 22nd (last) on the waitlist and got in before school started in September. This was back when there was only two K classes. People move and sign their kids up for different schools throughout the year before September, so you never know how things will work out.

I am really disgusted by the fact that another parent told you they are cheating the system by using a friend's address to register in catchment. If there are many other parents doing the same, imagine how many children actually living in the neighbourhood are having to seek out other schools. I (personally) would be in the school office ratting them out. But that's just me. :)

February 19, 2013 at 8:54 AM  
Henrietta Steves said...

This is ridiculous and you need to fight it. They need to come up with an actual good option if they can't place you in the catchment. Either all the students go to a new class at a different location or parents get a pick of where to go. Vancouver is very populated and they will have to suck it up and open new classrooms somewhere!

February 19, 2013 at 4:45 PM  
mazoola said...

i remember the uprising when downtown living familites were being 'forced' to enrol their children at Strathcon because of the lack of d/t school spot availabilities. is it all based on lottery system still?

February 19, 2013 at 9:09 PM  
Joseline Stepper said...

Thank you Andrea for writing this. I really hope that the Vancouver School Board gets their act together and starts really putting families first. I don't know what the actual outcome should or will be. If the school physically does not have the space they will not be able to accommodate such a high demand for the new K students. It looks like they really dropped the ball last year by admitting 4 new K classes and thus your group of new K's are feeling the burn. So sorry that you have this stress.

February 20, 2013 at 11:24 AM  
Anonymous said...

Of course the ones who lose out are the children. You would think that with a given history of over enrolment coupled with high population that they would have had a plan in place BEFORE this. Like a back up plan. A school where all the children who didn't get a spot would be able to go together. It is not a couple of children or families..with the numbers you posted it is 2 FULL kindy classes that they need to make. Once again the Vancouver School Board has dropped the ball. Hopefully they can scramble around and try to figure out a back up plan.
-Heidi-

February 20, 2013 at 11:38 AM  
Anonymous said...

Our condo is less than 50 meters of walking distance from the Elsie Roy School and our child is 43rd of 43 kids on the waiting list...ridicules!
When VSB proposed to add new classrooms to the school we fully suported that project. Our neigbours and Strata didn’t oppose that conustruction project, as this is what we got in return...:-(
Vancouver School Board cost tax payers $6740 per student: http://bit.ly/Yy860f and at the end this is what we get...?!!!!!

February 20, 2013 at 11:42 AM  
Anonymous said...

Of course we sholud fight...
The expansion of the building (at ER) added 4 classrooms.
Fall 2013 has 1.5 K classes and the school is accepting applications for grade 4-7 students from out of catchment...believe it or not...:-)
Natasha

February 20, 2013 at 1:05 PM  
Jordan said...

They added 4 classroms last year. Two of them are enough to accomodate 2 additional classes they accepted last year. So, I think they should be able to accept 2 additional classes this year.
Maybe they have a little bit different agenda here. Some schools in Vancouver are empty, so they can save some jobs by sending 40 kids there.

February 20, 2013 at 2:15 PM  
Anonymous said...

I have two kids in Elsie Roy, including one currently in Kindergarten. I don't think your friend is telling you the whole truth when she says she is using a friend's in-catchment address to enrol her child. The school will ONLY accept a property tax assessment or a copy of an executed lease agreement issued in the parent's name to confirm residency, so she would have to be committing a higher level of fraud to be successful. Since the school has been overpopulated (especially for kindergarteners) since it opened a decade ago, they have always heavily scrutinized that. You can't BS you're way in with a phone bill or photo ID showing an in-catchment address. However, once you are accepted and attending, they never follow up to reconfirm your address, so it is possible to move out of the catchment area but still continue to attend the school. With all of the buildings recently built (out-of-catchment) on Richards, Seymour, etc., there are parents who have done that as I see them cross Homer with their kids each day.

The other thing you may discover is that because the neighbourhood is highly transient (the 88 Kindergarten spaces versus ~10 Grade 7 spaces attests to this), a large number of those who apply in January, move out of the neighbourhood by September (or just register them at another school), so it is not unusual for a very large number of people on the waiting list to magically be accepted at the last minute. The school just doesn't know what the final numbers will be until they open the doors in September as most parents don't bother to remove themselves from the list when they leave the area before hand.

Unfortunately the other problem is that they recently moved to a lottery-based enrolment system. When I enrolled my eldest son, we slept overnight in front of the school (some slept for 3 nights) prior to registration day. If you were first in line, you were first on the list (following assignment of the sibling-priority spaces). I had no issue with this because I was the master of my own destiny and had no problem with making a small personal sacrifice to ensure my son had a space. Unfortunately a lot of people whined about this as being "unfair" so the district converted to a lottery system. The lottery system takes the power out of the parents' hands to secure a space for their child though, and I would think its lack of comparative transparency would also leave it open for abuse.

February 20, 2013 at 2:57 PM  
Michelle said...

Andrea, this is terrible. Because my kids are a bit younger I wasn't aware of this overcrowding problem. I hope your little guy gets into an awesome school that far exceeds your expectations and in the end you'll be glad the first choice didn't work out.

February 21, 2013 at 8:31 PM  
Anonymous said...

BC class size maximum for Kindergarten is actually 22 now, after the passing of Bill 22 last spring. I'm assuming that because this is downtown there is no room for portable modular learning centers that are designed for Kindergarten children? We have them in Richmond and they are actually quite nice!

February 22, 2013 at 7:42 PM  
Beck said...

Our son is three. Two years away from going to kindergarten. However my husband and I are already looking at our options of where in our city to go to get him to the best school. Unfortnately here where we live it depends on what neighbour you live in where you go to school. There are no options. And though this could be a good thing because of society classes it's not. If you live in a poor area of town then you can look forward to a poor educational experience for your child. So two years before our son goes to school, as a family we are trying to find the place to locate in our city to get him the best possible chance for his future. It is a shame that your son didn't get into the school you so wanted him to be in. I think you will find many people understand what you are going through. I hope things work out well.

February 22, 2013 at 8:47 PM  
Anonymous said...

Beck, I would disagree with you on the idea that if you live in a poor area you get a poor educational experience. I've taught in both inner city (Whalley) and the south end of Surrey. I gave the very same program in both classrooms. I expect the very same from my students. My access to resources was pretty much the same, except that in the wealthy area the PAC can fundraise for a nicer playground and more extras. PAC funds aren't supposed to go towards anything that is required for learning, just extras. There are more single parents in my "rich" school. There are more children on medication for anxiety. There is a serious issue of entitlement as well and parents not allowing their children to fail in order to learn. I'm considering switching back to inner city because when I call those parents to say their child is missing work or arriving late, they don't make excuses.

February 23, 2013 at 12:30 PM  
Beck said...

Perhaps I should have clarified that I'm not from BC. I live in Winnipeg. And here, where you live DOES make a difference of the type of education you get. Yes, I agree that in most cases it's the parents and children unit who make the most of educational experience presented to them. For us (since I can only speak for us) we simply want the best start to an already challenging experience. It is nice to know that there are teachers like you out there who are willing to teach no matter what.

February 23, 2013 at 5:33 PM  
littletiny said...

I just posted your article on FB on the Parents of Yaletown page. Thank you for writing this, Andrea. We are not in the catchment (we miss it by one block!) and we have discussed selling our home and buying within the catchment. I had no idea that those children in the catchment might not get into their neighbourhood school either. I find it distasteful that adults lie about where they live in order for their children to attend E.R. Not cool. We are in the Stathcona catchment - are you looking at that school at all?

February 28, 2013 at 10:03 PM  

A bit of history, a far as I know this is generally accurate but I may be off by a year or so. I apologise for the mix of history and opinion, thank you for putting up with my "therapy." I fully empathise with the frustrated families. I've been there. I'm here now.

When Elsie Roy Elementary opened, about eight years ago, it was not full. That took four years. Then the school was full and they had to bump up the class sizes to the district average (K 22, 1-3 24, 4-7 28). This coming year they will take grades 4-7 to 30 students, the maximum legally allowed. It's horrible. 30 sweaty, twitching, prepubescent and pubescent kids all trying to learn and control themselves. Stressed out teachers. And funding cut to the bone. Support staff that get sick and create a cascade of substitutions. A PAC reduced to fundraising for "learning materials."

For 14 years in a row, enrollment at VSB Schools dropped. So low that some schools were considered to be closed. For example, Henry Hudson Elementary was going to be closed about five years ago, and this year has only three students in its grade seven class. They have triple class splits there, left overs from when families moved to the suburbs to live. Or when one generation was (is) raising their youngest and the next generation (ours) is finishing parental leave for the youngest.

So about five years ago the dropping enrollments reversed and started to rocket up. I lined up for my eldest (born 2006) outside and grumbled about not having a lottery system but happy that I could be in line over night while my wife took care of the kids. Not every parent had that ability. I personally feel that the lottery system is fairer but that the demographics now make it much more likely that you are going to lose. So I understand why some would rather sleep over for nights than take a chance that the lottery, with a one in four chance to "win", wouldn't be successful for them.

Confession: my youngest is one of the twenty siblings. Next year I will have three kids in the school. I am part of the demographic problem.

So now, as many parents know, Elsie Roy Elementary, False Creek Elementary, Henry Hudson Elementary, and Lord Roberts Elementary are full. Even after shrinking the Elsie Roy catchment to nearly half of it's original size, Elsie Roy is full.

Success? Failure? Are you happy when you bake cookies and the kids won't stop pestering you for another cookie? Are you sad when your child asks you to go to the library a second time this week? Are you frustrated when your child won't leave the playground on a sunny day? Life isn't easy for parents. Frankly, most days it's an effing grind. Sprinkled with rays of sunlight and love. Or is that pee and puke?

March 1, 2013 at 3:00 AM  

My opinions follow. You can argue with me. Bring data.

The overfull schools are not VSB's fault. Everything I've seen from VSB shows that they are doing the best that they can with the limited resources and drooping morale that come with budget cut after budget cut.

It's not the Ministry of Education's fault either. Sure the government has cut BC public education funding year after year after year. And they delay funding for building new schools. And they delay funding for renovating and performing seismic upgrades for old schools. (IMHO, a major earthquake will flatten Henry Hudson. Most students will die. I'm not kidding about the death part.)

It's not the City of Vancouver's fault. Yes, they took money from the developers. Yes, they were involved in sizing the school and the condos. Yes, they probably have access to vital statistics data that would have told them, and VSB and the Ministry of Education, where things were going. But no, they didn't tell you to live hear and have kids. They didn't tell me either, I was just a few years faster than you.

This situation is the result of a population swing combined with dense housing over twenty years that has caught those with too little information, the parents, in a bind.

Blissful for five years, happy with a combination of parental leave, daycare waitlists, nannies, the Elementary enrollment lottery is a harsh brick wall that families in Vancouver are slamming into.

When January 2013 rolled around, the Elsie Roy staff had this information: the number of grade seven students (leaving), three students who were already planning to leave, nine students wait listed from last year to add, twenty kindergarten siblings to add next. This left your 17 spots, and 60 kindergarten applicants.

Frustration was the only possibly outcome.

Yes, Elsie Roy was built too small. They used demographic information that was skewed towards dropping enrollments from when families moved to the suburbs and condos were still being built. There are another five cranes in the Elsie Roy catchment, and a few more spots where they could build but haven't yet.

Yes, they expanded the school with four classrooms. Two for kindergarten/primary. Two for intermediate grades. Last year they planned to accept only two kindergarten classes, and sent the wait listed kids to the head VSB office (as in this year) to be sorted out Vancouver wide. This to my knowledge is the only "central planning" that VSB can really do. No one tells you where to live, how many kids to have, or promises you that their will be a spot for your child in school or at daycare. Unfortunately, neither did they tell us the opposite.

March 1, 2013 at 3:00 AM  


So last year, after VSB looked at the numbers, they packed in the 88 kindergartners and the injury rates at recess have been astronomical. 88 kids running around and you need a lot of bandages and ice packs. The playground design is part of the problem. 88 young kids + 325 other kids = collisions. Next year those 88 become Grade One students, and the current Grade Six students will graduate. A few more kindergarten students will be enrolled. Repeat, repeat, repeat.


Now that VSB has sent everyone their assignment to Lord Roberts, some families are considering private schools a similar driving distance away. Some are considering moving out of the neighborhood.



So what is the solution? Social movement to get more funding for buses, portables, schools in general?

Political movement to introduce enrollment wait lists at birth? (New Westminster has this!)

Fill in False Creek from Main to Cambie and build more schools and playgrounds? Float barges in False Creek with portables? Get space from the City of Vancouver in the park for portables?

Move? Homeschool?

Are you considering contacting your MLA? Are you going to ask for more money for public education? Are you going to ask the City of Vancouver, and the Vancouver School Board, or even the Vancouver Sun to inform parents of the realities of the demographics of "ecodensity" and "condo families" and the public schools?

I personally, would like to have another option for my children's friend's families than uncertainty, frustration, and moving to East Vancouver (or further). Downtown condo living in Vancouver has many benefits. But ten or more years ago our families didn't exist in large enough number to fill the schools (but the daycares were full!). Now that we're here, we need to find new solutions to the new problems of full schools, and full community centres.

Sam Sullivan is a fan of Ecodensity, also running for MLA with the BC Liberal party for False Creek. I wonder what he'd suggest we do. http://www.samsullivan.ca/

Matt Toner is with the BC NDP, http://www.falsecreekbcndp.ca/matt-toner-your-bc-ndp-candidate-false-creek

Can we blame the baby boomers?

Yours in frustration and success,
-Jason

March 1, 2013 at 3:00 AM  
littletiny said...

Vancouver Sun: http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2013/03/01/yaletown-disappointment-not-enough-room-at-elsie-roy-elementary/

March 1, 2013 at 7:29 PM  

Corrections (Thanks to Gary Watson) "There are 3 grade seven kids in the French Immersion portion of Hudson. However, this is because this year is the first graduating French Class from Hudson, as it converted to half French, half English eight years ago. There also aren't any triple split classes, as the school is currently at capacity. I don't want any of the parents to be scared away from Hudson as an option for Yaletown kids."

Thanks Gary for the corrections. I misinterpreted something another Henry Hudson parent told me.

However, my understanding is that Henry Hudson Elementary is full, as in cross boundary applications come after the wait listed in-catchment applicants.

March 1, 2013 at 10:02 PM  
Anonymous said...

Parent of grade 1english at Henry Hudson. His class has 18 kids, started with 12 so not at capacity. I believe the French class is near capacity.

We have been told that in an earthquake, the interior of the school will likely hold but the brick cladding exterior would likely fall so if the kids are outside.....

Rumor is also that the school has been deemed unsuitable for retrofitting and they are going to build new one where the swamp, er, field sits. This area is wholly unuseable most of the year as it sits below sea level and kids used to fish in a stream that ran through the field (still there just underground).

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July 4, 2013 at 6:52 PM  
Anonymous said...

I was wondering if any of the parents that applied for 2013 can comment on what happened with their child's waiting list. Was there any success with the waitlist? Our son is going into K starting September 2014, and it sounds as though he will be in a lottery for ER, so we are discussing backup plans just in case. Would love to hear back on what happened with this year's K classes.

October 29, 2013 at 11:49 AM  

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