Skip to content

School District 43 kindergarten students more vulnerable

Tri-City groups working with children and families are puzzling over a new report that shows kindergarten students in School District 43 are more vulnerable than the provincial average even though the community is relatively affluent.

Tri-City groups working with children and families are puzzling over a new report that shows kindergarten students in School District 43 are more vulnerable than the provincial average even though the community is relatively affluent.
An eight year study of kindergarten students and their social, physical, language, learning and communication skills has found vulnerability rates increasing in Tri-City neighbourhoods while incomes are typically higher than the provincial average.
"Median family income is higher than average but our vulnerability is also higher," said Susan Foster, coordinator of an Early Childhood Development committee that monitors and oversees programs for children from birth to six years old.
Foster points to a series of studies by the UBC-based Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) showing vulnerability rose from 23% six years ago to 33% today. The data is based on observations by teachers of kindergarten students, with the most recent data collected in 2011.
The first, so-called wave, of data, isn't included in the study released to agencies working with families last week, but the latest Early Development Instrument (EDI) suggests families are struggling, Foster said.
One particular area of concern is in social and emotional development, basically the ability to get along. Foster said 16% of students were vulnerable in social competence but all neighbourhoods showed vulnerability in this area.
"We don't want parents to feel bad, however, what can we do to address this," said Foster.
She speculates families are more isolated even as they struggle to meet work, school and extra-curricular obligations.
Another study involving Grade 4 students who were asked to report on their health and well-being is showing similar trends, according to Foster, and Angelo Lam, who coordinates the region's United-Way-funded Middle Childhood Matters committee.
While 51% of children reported to be feeling happy, optimistic, confident and healthy and are considered "thriving," another 23% were considered to have medium-high well-being and 27% per cent were considered to have low-well being.
"The children in the MDI are reporting they don't have strong connections with people outside of their family," Lam said, While in some neighbourhoods, children appear to be doing better, all are struggling with issues such as eating together, sleep and nutrition.
The two would like to see more dialogue about some of these issues and are prepared to make presentations about the two studies to interested groups. "It's really about sitting down and having a conversation about what the problems are," Lam said.
MORE HELP IN SCHOOLS
Meanwhile, the school district is taking a closer look at the studies to see how to address the issues of vulnerability and at-risk kids in schools.
Assistant Superintendent Maureen Dockendorf said the introduction of full-day kindergarten in 2010 could explain in part why vulnerability rates were higher. "I'm not saying it's a reason, I'm saying it is a piece and I'm wondering about it. There's a good seven hours when teachers are observing and working with these kids, and for sure more issues have emerged."
However, the district is also intervening to support vulnerable children by bringing resource workers, such as ESL teachers, into kindergarten classrooms and is targeting extra resources to 10 schools considered vulnerable.
Approximately $70,000 is spent each year on release time so teachers in these schools can work together as a team with at-risk students, she said, and the efforts are paying off in achievement.
However, she said she is concerned that Grade 4 students in the MDI study are reporting they don't have any attachment to an adult outside their families. "Principals are looking at it," she said, "It's part of the puzzle."
For more information or a presentation on these reports, email Susan.Foster@fraserhealth.ca.
dstrandberg@trictynews.com