stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
Play equity
space
Any child will tell you all playgrounds are not created equal. With growing disparity in the quality of Toronto's schoolyards, experts question if parent fundraising should determine the price of fun
space
By SALMAAN FAROOQUI
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, November 11, 2017 – Page M1

Parents and staff at Parkdale Junior and Senior Public School are in the midst of a fundraising drive to revamp the school's aging playground.

The price tag for the five-year project is steep - $500,000 - and a quarter of it will have to come from parent fundraising.

"It's a pretty big goal for a school like Parkdale, but we're trying," says Darren Sustar, a co-chair of the parent council.

The west-end neighbourhood is diverse, with a high number of low-income families and recent immigrants, making the fundraising target a significant barrier for getting rid of the swampy grass and dilapidated wooden play structure.

Not all schools face the same struggle. Data obtained from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) show that parents in affluent neighbourhoods are often able to rally funds for playground equipment that nearly match Parkdale's five-year goal in just one year.

In Bennington Heights, just north of the downtown core, the elementary school was able to raise $100,000 in a year for its playground. And in the rapidly growing Leslieville community in the city's east end, parents quickly pulled together more than $50,000 at Morse Street Junior Public School. Its playground now features multiple play areas, a fancy wooden feature and a giant climbing structure.

Overall fundraising numbers from the 2015-16 school year show that multiple elementary schools were able to raise well over a quarter of a million dollars a year, while others struggled to raise one-fifth of that.

Playgrounds are increasingly becoming symbolic of the inequity in Toronto schools, a phenomenon driven by strict provincial rules on parent fundraising and growing financial challenges for the school board, which must choose between fixing leaking roofs or replacing aging slides.

Yet, experts say that playgrounds are a key area of the school experience that affect student engagement and social development and they question if their quality should be determined by the wealth of a neighbourhood.

A survey by the Toronto-based advocacy group People for Education found this year that for every $1 that a low-income neighbourhood is able to raise for its school, affluent neighbourhoods are able to raise $49. That ratio has increased from $1 and $25 nine years ago.

The Ministry of Education is mindful of equity and doesn't allow outside funds to be used for classroom learning materials, textbooks and most parts of infrastructure. Fundraising money is usually spent on field trips, guest speakers and technology such as iPads and laptops. Playgrounds are an exception to the infrastructure rule.

Ministry of Education spokesperson Heather Irwin said the ministry provides money to the school boards to keep up their facilities, but it's up to individual boards whether they spend it on playgrounds or other school facilities. Ms. Irwin added that boards have some options to level the playing field with fundraising as well.

"To promote equity, the [fundraising] guideline also encourages school boards to support donations to board-level funds, or matching programs between schools and/or school councils," Ms. Irwin said in a statement.

Richard Christie, senior manager of sustainability at the TDSB, acknowledged that there is a gap in the quality of playgrounds across the city and said there shouldn't be a reliance on parents to fundraise for them. But he says the current situation is an unfortunate reality that comes with the lack of funds the school board has at its disposal. The board is dealing with a $3.7-billion backlog for pressing repairs.

"We're only given X amount of dollars and we have all these facility needs, and of course you're going to put it in for the leaky roof, or for the boiler that's going to fail," Mr. Christie said. "School grounds, unless it's a safety issue, have really been at the bottom of the priority list, which is why some schools are in the state they're in."

Carl James, a professor at York University who studies equity in education, says that unequal playgrounds present a problem because they can have a significant impact on a student's education experience.

For kids who already live in lowerincome areas and have less access to fundraising in their schools, playground conditions that are subpar can pile on to a child's negative experiences.

Prof. James says students in lowerincome neighbourhoods, who may already require more support, could internalize those shortcomings and that it ultimately affects how well students engage in class or develop social relationships.

"The question is then, how can schools operate at an equal measure to respond to the needs of some students?" Prof. James said. "[You must] consider what goes on in that community, in that school's surroundings and in the culture in that school."

Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, added that leaving playgrounds to be handled by parent fundraising is troubling when the fundraising gap between rich and poor schools is so large.

"Where do we draw the line?" Ms. Kidder said. "What do we see as core parts of education that should be paid for by taxes so that there's no inequity, and what are the extras where fundraising has a role to play?" Ms. Kidder says she definitely considers playgrounds as infrastructure and says they should be paid for by the education system.

At Parkdale, Mr. Sustar says that a recent effort to raise around $30,000 this year was "monumental." But the neighbourhood has also undergone radical economic shifts in recent years as families with higher incomes have started to move in.

Mr. Sustar says before that gentrification, raising even a modest sum would have been impossible.

"Five or six years ago, a parent council would only raise $10,000 or $11,000," Mr. Sustar said. "And that was only enough to take Grade 7 and 8s to field trips and for graduation."

Mr. Sustar says he's fortunate that he's at an income level that would allow him to move to another neighbourhood if his children's school in Parkdale wasn't meeting his expectations.

But not everyone has that option - especially lower-income families who need to stay in areas where there is low-cost or subsidized housing.

"It affects marginalized kids for sure," Mr. Sustar said. "They probably right away realize they don't get the same shake as an affluent kid who can leave the school."

But it's not only parents in marginalized parts of Toronto that have issues with how playground fundraising works. Over at Bennington Heights Elementary School, Nick Oldland, a former member of the school's parent council, says he's frustrated that playgrounds are one of the only things that parents are able to fundraise for.

Mr. Oldland said that while parents were able to raise six figures for a beautiful new playground, there were other infrastructure problems such as rotting portables and chipping paint that he would have rather spent the money on. But he couldn't, because guidelines say that core infrastructure must be paid for by the school to promote equity.

"What ends up happening is, out of a sense of frustration, the money ends up being spent on a playground," said Mr. Oldland, who currently has two children at Bennington Heights and two others who have graduated.

"The last thing parents want to fundraise for is the playground."

As a children's author who has travelled to a wide variety of TDSB schools, Mr. Oldland says that in his experience, schools in low-income areas don't have some of the same major infrastructure issues because of their designation as priority schools, which can put them at the front of the line for repairs.

While the TDSB's Mr. Christie acknowledged the funding issues that led to those problems, he says that the board's situation is improving slowly.

Over the past two years, the Ministry of Education has increased funding for infrastructure projects at the TDSB, meaning that the board can tackle more projects than it was able to before.

This year, the board was able to work on 12 school grounds that otherwise would have not been done.

In 2016, it was able to work on another eight schools.

But Mr. Christie says that in a rapidly growing city such as Toronto, families shouldn't be facing this problem where their school grounds aren't funded.

"These school grounds are becoming increasingly important as public assets and green spaces," Mr. Christie said. "The broader public sector ... needs to come together and recognize these school grounds as incredibly important assets for the broader community."

Mr. Christie pointed out that in central parts of Toronto, many of the school grounds bring vital greenery not only for students, but for the community at large. He called on funding to also be provided from institutions beyond the TDSB and Ministry of Education.

"This is all about quality of life ... and creating a city where people want to live."

Associated Graphic

Milo and Rose Rebick-Sustar play at a playground in Toronto on Friday.

MARK BLINCH/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Darren Sustar and Terra Rebick with their children, Rose and Milo, in Toronto on Friday. Mr. Sustar says while he's fortunate enough financially to be able to move to another neighbourhood if his children's school wasn't meeting his expectations, not everyone has that option.

MARK BLINCH/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Eric_Reguly Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page