Recess returns to CV schools

Recess returns to CV schools

Recess has returned to the playgrounds of School District 71’s elementary schools as of February. That’s good news for children and teachers.

But why the school district eliminated recess at the start of this school year and the reasons for reinstating it now aren’t such good news: it’s political and, most egregiously, has nothing to do with children and the benefits they reap from the power of play.

The blame starts with B.C. Liberal Party leader Christy Clark who has seriously underfunded British Columbia public schools for more than a decade and robbed our children of world-class educational opportunities.

But the blame doesn’t end there.

To close a $3 million funding gap for the 2016-17 school year, local Comox Valley school trustees rejected a proposal by some parents to close underused and low-enrollment schools.

They chose instead to institute a 4.6-day school week, which ends at 12:01 p.m. every Friday for all Comox Valley schools. That saved the district about $1.8 million, and resulted in the firing of more than 15 teaching support staff because teacher preparation time was rolled into Friday afternoons. Spring break was cut in half.

But the shortened school week created a number of new problems.

Some students stopped going to school on Friday mornings because in many cases no substantial instruction occurs during the shortened versions of a full day’s classes. This squeeze on time led one district secondary teacher to apologize to his students before they took a province-wide exam for being unable to teach the full curriculum.

The district also eliminated recess, which they called a “gift” for elementary students and teachers to which they weren’t legally entitled. They reclassified recess as instructional time.

The loss of recess may seem inconsequential, but its importance for energetic young children goes beyond the need to stretch and move after hours of sitting still. Kids learn many of life’s important lessons on the playground.

There is a sophistication to the world of play that may be lost on many of us. Play gives educators, and parents, a chance to peek into the sometimes hidden world of children. When you want to see what children are really interested in, watch what they do when they have nothing to do.

For children, play is always purposeful. It is up to us as adults to unearth the special significance of the playful act. It may be a role that the child is trying on for the future.

There’s a possibility that taking away the joy that children get from recess will demotivate them and cause them to do less well in other areas. The amount of material children have to accomplish these days is overwhelming, so teachers have to move fast. With that kind of intensity in the classroom, kids and teachers need a break.

Recess should be considered an important part of the elementary curriculum, just as math and science. When children play, they’re thinking, solving problems, investigating and learning language skills. It’s the only part of the day when they can do whatever they want, so they learn how to cooperate, socialize and work out conflicts.

Fortunately, the Comox District Teachers’ Association had a tool to push back and they used it. The elimination of recess violated the contract language for elementary school teachers. In order to live up to its collective agreement with teachers, the school district reinstated recess, but continues to classify it as instructional time.

This sets the stage for a possible new contract issue, because the B.C. School Act clearly specifies that recess (and the time for lunch and between classes) cannot be considered instructional time.

School trustees and teachers both want to do the right thing. But this is the type of confusion and tension caused by the chronic underfunding of public schools.

So recess was reinstated. But not because it’s good for children or indirectly improves learning back in the classroom. Young Comox Valley school children can only rediscover the power of play thanks to a contractual technicality.

We should worry about the future of a society where kids are not encouraged to run and play. Where the power of play is devalued. Where there is no unstructured time to fuel imagination, encourage creativity and strength social development.

When you take away recess, you take away a complex learning environment that contributes to healthy childhood development.

Injection sites can prevent deaths, not overdoses

Injection sites can prevent deaths, not overdoses

Not many people who moved to the Comox Valley for its small-town feel, access to recreational opportunities or the lively arts scene imagined heroin addicts injecting themselves in public places or one person dying almost every month from an opioid overdose.

But these things are happening here.

The Chambers of Commerce and elected officials don’t want to draw undue attention to this grim reality, but it has become too big to ignore.

More than 150 people died from opioid overdoses on Vancouver Island last year. Although more people died in the larger centres of Victoria and Nanaimo, the North Island (including the Valley) had the highest rate of increase — up 156 percent over last year — in overdoses. Ten people died from overdoses over the past 12 months in the Comox Valley.

And Island Health believes the overdose statistics are actually worse, and that many overdoes go unreported. And heroin kills more people than official death certificates indicate. That’s because heroin metabolizes as morphine, so toxicology reports in overdose cases often list morphine or an opiate as the cause of death.

Opioid deaths have increased sharply because most street heroin today contains fentanyl, which is up to 100 times more powerful than heroin. Just a speck of fentanyl the size of a few grains of salt can kill a 113-kilogram (250-pound) person.

Island Health Medical Health Officer Charmaine Enns told the Courtenay City Council this week that her agency hopes to reduce the Valley’s overdose death rate by opening a safe injection site where trained personnel could administer rescue breathing or Naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.

But these sites are misnamed and give the public a false impression. Island Health staff cannot prevent someone from overdosing, which occurs nano-moments after the drug is injected. They can only prevent the overdosed person from dying.

Enns said the supervised injection site at the offices of Island Health or some other provincial agency will allow staff to interact with users and offer mental health counselling and other services. That’s a good thing, and so is giving people a chance to live another day and get their life back on track.

But there are potential downsides.

To keep people suffering from addiction coming back to the clinics, Island Health staff might have to offer users less addictive drugs, such as methadone, and potentially dispense stronger drugs. If that does occur, the public may have a strong reaction.

The sites also put staff at risk because even a small amount of fentanyl is deadly if it’s absorbed through the skin or inhaled when airborne. Fentanyl’s potency has already harmed first responders from New Jersey to Vancouver.

The public should know what safeguards are in place to prevent this from happening here.

City of Courtenay firefighters have agreed to voluntarily respond immediately to serious medical calls, which includes overdoses. But they will only do so if they are equipped with Naloxone nasal spray, supplied by either the province for free or if the City Council agrees to purchase it.

They will not, in other words, participate in using needles to inject Naloxone, sometimes known by its commercial name, Narcan. To do that increases the chance of contacting fentanyl or needle injuries.

The extent of the heroin addiction problem has been partially hidden because today’s users are often middle-income, white, and no longer habitues of the gritty alleys of urban areas. The use of heroin and other opioids has moved into suburbs and small towns.

Island Health reports that overdose occurrences are widespread across the entire Comox Valley.

All over the province and across North America, people hooked on prescription painkillers find heroin easier to acquire and less expensive. If that wasn’t alarming enough, heroin use has become popular among school-aged teens. U.S. studies show that 3 percent of high school students are using heroin today.

The province was right to declare a public health emergency over the opioid problem. But whether the ministry’s plan just treats symptoms, or provides a lasting solution remains to be seen.

Even though safe injection sites raise troubling questions about enabling addiction rather than treating it, doing nothing is not an option when so many deaths can be prevented.

At the very least, we can learn from this effort, change course based on what is learned, and, at the same time, start thinking a whole lot harder about what it would take to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place.

Is the genuine apology a forgotten or endangered species?

Is the genuine apology a forgotten or endangered species?

When civility in modern public discourse declines, it attempts to drag other forms of decent human interaction into the murky abyss of lost social conventions.

The genuine apology, for example, teeters dangerously close to collateral damage. In the Trump world, you never apologize. You just don’t “talk about it anymore.” In the new lexicon, “I’m sorry” are dirty words.

Have you offended the parents of a war hero, an honest judge or a whole race of people? Just announce that sometimes you say the wrong things, which you regret, but don’t be specific.

If you’re an Olympic swimmer who committed a crime in a foreign country and then committed other crimes and told lies to cover it up, obfuscate your apology with sad-sack whining about your personal trauma. Forget the part about pointing a loaded gun at less-privileged third-world people.

But don’t forget when an apology is required.

For example, after 35 years of shirking its legal obligations and moral duty to carry out the terms of Mack Laing’s Last Will, which it accepted along with valuable waterfront property, his personal possessions and his money, the Town of Comox has never officially apologized for its breach of trust.

I’m sure that Laing’s family in Manitoba and Oregon would appreciate the gesture.

The problem isn’t just that the apology has fallen out of vogue. People seem to have forgotten how to do it properly. Lesson number one: atonement isn’t about you.

After a well-known actor recently made some anti-gay statements, he said, “This is heartbreaking for me.” As a corporate CEO acknowledged environmental wrong-doing, he said, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

Confronted with the past collective sins of the town, in respect to Mack Laing’s Last Will and trust, Mayor Paul Ives has said, “That was then, this is now.” And went on to justify tearing down what Heritage B.C. considers a significant landmark.

A genuine apology doesn’t hedge. It doesn’t include modifiers that dilute personal responsibility. It doesn’t impose limits on accountability or suggest a partial defense by casting some measure of blame on those offended. It promises to do better.

Canadians are good apologizers. We’ve apologized to Chinese Canadians for a 19th Century head tax; to Japanese Canadians for stealing their property and imprisoning them in internment camps; to Inuit peoples for relocating them to a harsh place without survival assistance; and, for turning away nearly 400 Sikh migrants on the vessel, Komagata Maru over a century ago, knowing they faced certain death.

And we do apologize right.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, addressing the abuse of Indigenous Canadians in the residential school systems, he said, “Our goal, as we move forward together, is clear: It is to lift this burden from your shoulders, from those of your families and communities … It is to accept fully our responsibilities, and our failings, as a government and as a country.”

A genuine apology is often uttered to relieve a person or an organization of its guilt and shame. But the refusal to apologize attempts to mask any feeling of guilt or shame that might make the person or organization look weak or vulnerable.

Most everyone has said or done something they regret. But in the absence of any reparation, these things can hover over our sense of well-being like storm clouds. A simple, heartfelt apology can clear the air.

So, let’s not be like Trump. Let’s not apologize for apologizing, where contrition is appropriate. Let’s embrace moments of introspection that manifest in words that heal and move us forward.

Social Studies 2.6.2017

America’s fast-food president likes it clean

Seventy-year-old U.S. President Donald Trump loves fast food. Big Macs. Buckets of KFC. Slices of pizza. And he hates exercise, which he doesn’t do often. America’s Fast-Food president isn’t setting a good example in the fight against childhood obesity and early onset diabetes.

Why does he eat so much fast food? In his own words:

“I’m a very clean person. I like cleanliness, and I think you’re better off going there (McDonald’s) than maybe someplace that you have no idea where the food’s coming from. It’s a certain standard,” he said.

Useless facts about electric cars B.C. will pay you to drive

The B.C. provincial government this week announced a $40 million investment to encourage people to drive electric cars. In addition, residents can save up to $11,000 if they trade their old car for an electric one.

The province’s Clean Energy Vehicles for B.C. program offers up to $5,000 for an electric vehicle purchase, and the non-profit B.C. Scrap-It offers and additional $6,000 dollars towards electric vehicles purchases. Vehicles priced above $77,000 are not eligible for purchase incentives.

Here are some electric car facts:

• The first cars ever made by Oldsmobile and Studebaker were electric.
• Electric cars outsold gas models by 10-to-1 in the 1890s.
• The world’s first automotive dealerships sold electric cars.
• Self-starters were introduced in electric cars 20 years before gas vehicles.
• The very first speeding ticket was given to the driver of an electric car.

Sarah Palin coming to Canada? We say (big gulp) No betcha!

There’s a rumor that President Trump might appoint the weird and absolutely nuts Sarah Palin as the U.S. ambassador to Canada. Aside from the fact that this makes many people want to throw up, she doesn’t speak Canadian or any of our other official languages.

Ottawa Citizen columnist Andrew Cohen wrote, “In Canada, Palin would have to learn to speak one of our official languages. She would have to live in a land of naïfs who favour immigrants, gay marriage, the United Nations and NATO.”

Let’s take a big gulp ourselves, and hope this is fake news, or an early April Fools joke.

Cumberland celebrates its heritage, while Comox destroys theirs

Heritage Week in British Columbia starts next Monday and runs through Sunday, Feb. 13 to Feb. 19. The Village of Cumberland will celebrate its history starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 18th, with the 13th annual Heritage Faire at the Cumberland Recreation Institute Hall. The Faire revives the spirit of a folk festival in the 1950s focused on the diverse heritage of Cumberlanders.

The Town of Comox, on the other hand, doesn’t have any heritage events planned that we know about. They just have anti-heritage events. Like the Town Council’s recent unanimous decision to beg the B.C. Supreme Court to release the town from the obligations it agreed to 35 years ago in accepting famous naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing’s property, house and money.

In spite of pleas from Heritage B.C. — the sponsor of Heritage Week — the Town of Comox wants to tear down Laing’s house, Shakesides, and use his money for other purposes.

Social Studies 1.30.2017

Proud of Washington state for first to sue Trump

I am so proud of my friend and Governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, for denouncing President Trump travel ban on Muslims from certain countries. And for Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson for leading the nation in suing the Trump Administration over its actions against immigrants. And my birth-state of Minnesota joined the suit two days later.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the lawsuits and people from the affected countries can now apply for entry to the U.S.

“Judge Robart’s decision, effective immediately … puts a halt to President Trump’s unconstitutional and unlawful executive order,” Ferguson said. “The law is a powerful thing — it has the ability to hold everybody accountable to it, and that includes the president of the United States.”

I’m proud to have been publisher (and editor of our editorial page) of The Olympian, the only major daily newspaper in Washington state that endorsed Inslee for governor when he first ran in 2012. We also endorsed Ferguson. Both turned out to be excellent choices.

(The Olympian Editorial Board in December 2014, from left community members Jill Severn and Larry Jefferson, Gov. Jay Inslee, Publisher George Le Masurier, columnist John Dodge and state house reporter Brad Shannon}