Published August 14, 2020 13:01
While parents and teachers are wondering what school will look like come September, Ron Brown is concerned about where children will be heading once class is dismissed.
Brown is president and chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg Inc., which runs free before-and-after school programming for more than 3,600 children at 12 centres in the city.
Historically, eight of the 12 clubs were run out of gymnasiums and multipurpose rooms at neighbourhood schools. Now, most of the clubs have lost their home base with the provincial government suspending the community use of schools as part of its Restoring Safe Schools plan.
"We offer a safe place for kids to be after school, which is the most vulnerable time for kids, it also gives parents the assurance that their kids are in a good, safe stimulating environment until mom or dad gets home," Brown said. "One thing we do is feed every kid every day, and for children and youth who depend on that after school meal or snack, if that’s gone, that’s going to further the nutrition gap."
Brown said the club is working on a backup plan and is hoping to find facilities in the communities they serve to host programs in the fall — the organization has been running summer programs out of schools despite the novel coronavirus pandemic — but any shift in location will require more staff, a larger budget and could impact attendance.
"The advantage of working in a school is you have direct access to the kids who attend our programs. In other words: they don’t have to transition out of school and into another facility and it doesn’t add to our bottom line, because schools give us free use of their space," he said.
Some clubs may not operate for a period of time if appropriate facilities can’t be found, Brown said, and he worries clubs will lose contact with children.
"As someone who is dealing with this issue, I can’t begin to imagine the challenge of what the department of education and school divisions are up against," he said. "Our hope is that we can be seen to be working with the same students in those schools as are already in them.
"They’re making allowances for daycares… to be categorized in that same way would be really helpful to us."
Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) said the restriction on community use of schools will also be felt in her south end ward.
If indoor sports are green lit for the fall, the growing neighbourhood has few indoor recreation spaces and relies on school facilities for community programming and sports. Without schools as an option, that programming simply won’t happen, Lukes said.
"This creates lots of spare time for children, which as a mother of three boys, is not really desirable," Lukes said Friday. "I understand, but this definitely, for the South Winnipeg Community Centre, is a tremendous hit."