Art, music classes being squeezed out due to high enrollment in West Shore schools

Art, music classes being squeezed out due to high enrollment in West Shore schools
Due to high enrollment, many students are learning in portables in the Sooke School District.

High enrollment in West Shore schools means spaces typically set aside for art, music, drama or small group learning have been converted to general classroom space, according to the district.

These measures take place in “heavily populated schools,” though the Sooke School District (SD62) notes this is a last resort as it negatively impacts the school environment and student experience.

Additionally, all of the portables the district has are currently deployed due to the overcapacity schools.

“Simply adding more portables to our current infrastructure is not a feasible solution. The purchase and/or movement of portables places extreme pressure on our operating budget. The more operational dollars spent on portables, the less we are able to spend on students,” Amanda Dowhy, board chair of the district said.

SD62 says nine of the district’s 19 elementary schools have had their multipurpose spaces repurposed: Colwood, Crystal View, David Cameron, John Muir, Lakewood, Millstream, Ruth King, Sangster, and Savory.

The process of repurposing these rooms began in 2021 and each year more schools have had to do the same to accommodate more students.

RELATED: Sooke School District still over capacity despite opening of two new schools

In these schools, in order to continue offering the art, music and drama classes, the teachers of these programs bring materials to the students classroom, rather than having students go to a set classroom with the materials already set up.

“We haven’t cut any programming, the challenge is how that gets delivered in our schools, so it’s more of a pressure on our teachers to have to go classroom to classroom with the instruments and the different things that they need for instruction,” Scott Stinson, SD 62’s superintendent said.

“So it’s become more of a challenge in terms of scheduling and how that looks operationally in our schools, but there’s no cut to programming, so our students are still getting the full and robust instructional program that they all deserve.”

A new elementary school is under construction for the district, and the SĆIȺNEW̱ SṮEȽIṮḴEȽ Elementary School in the Latoria/Olympic View area is expected to be at or near capacity when it opens. The 480-seat school is projected to open in fall 2025.

The province recently announced funding to build expansions to Ruth King and David Cameron elementary schools, and while the district says this funding is welcome, more is needed to address the growing population.

“These prefabricated additions will bring much needed relief to the downtown cores of Langford and Colwood,” Dowhy said. “While these additions provide a welcome respite in our immediate space challenges, the continued heavy residential growth in newer neighbourhoods throughout Langford and Colwood, with no end in sight, means we still need new schools.”

West Shore schools are projected to grow to over 16,000 students by 2030, an increase from its current enrollment of 13,767.

The Sooke School District had 680 additional students enrol in the 2023-2024 school year.

“While we are pleased that our schools continue to be a destination of choice for families,” Paul Block, deputy superintendent said, “the sustained growth pattern presents a real accommodation
challenge for us now, and in the future.”

RELATED: Sooke School District superintendent announces retirement

This also comes with a significant increase in the number of students accessing extra support through the Inclusive Education Services Department. In the 2022-2023 school year, there were 3,824 students receiving support, and this year there are 4,378 students.

The number of students receiving English Language Learner supports increased to 1,409 from 1,125 and Indigenous students receiving language and cultural supports increased to 1,243 from 1,235.

Over the past 15 years, the Sooke School District says it has grown by 40 per cent, and the number of students this year marks a five per cent growth rate.

“We continue to have students in our District, specifically those in the Westshore who are unable to attend their catchment schools because there is no space,” Dowhy said. “As residential developments across the West Shore continue to expand, it is imperative that new school infrastructure and expansion funding coincide alongside them.”

The district says it is looking at options to accommodate the growth, including applying for provincial funding to build new schools or expansions, use of overflow schools and using portables.

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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