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Protesting education cuts

Abdeslam Boubia (left) and Quinn Mell-Cobb. Photograph by Ryan Elias

Lord Byng student Abdeslam Boubia  wants to send a message to the provincial government that cutting money for schools isn't acceptable.  "I don't want to go through a school system that's underfunded,"  Boubia said.

Boubia met last Friday with other students to discuss tactics and to brainstorm ideas. The students say they are incensed that the province could find funding for a new stadium roof at BC Place, but not for public education. They organized a Facebook page with over three hundred members and on June 1, "Youth Rally Against Budget Cuts" will take place.

Brimming with restless energy, Boubia kept the discussion flowing briskly, if not always methodically. Enthusiasm barely in check, he strayed frequently from his own agenda items to reiterate the students' shared beliefs about the value of education or to sketch out plans for future actions.

"People are always scared when students speak out," he said. "But it's so important that we make those voices heard."

Boubia's co-organizers, Celina Vincent, Rachel Ha, Brian Hui and Quinn Mell-Cobb, all secondary school students, may not quite reach his unfettered ideological fervor, but they expressed serious concern for their school system.

"I didn't really wanna become involved in this until I found out that one of my teachers was actually getting slashed," Mell-Cobb, who also attends Byng, said. He suggested that the group provide stickers or buttons that say "Fighting for", with a blank space for students to write down the name of a teacher they know being affected.

The group has thus far relied on social media and word of mouth to spread the word, though they will begin a poster campaign this week.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Boubia said.

"The Coalition to Build a Better B.C., they've got our backs," he said, "The B.C. Teachers' Federation, the French Teachers' Federation... I'm getting emails from teachers from Surrey. It's really blown my mind."

One commenter on the rally's Facebook page wrote: "Campbell doesn't give a f**k about us."

"Let's go to Victoria and fight the Liberals!" another wrote.

Two other Lord Byng students, Randy Lee and Kurt Ahn, directed "Can't Afford To Be Smart," a music video matching clips of an April protest at the Vancouver School Board to the tune of Hollywood punk band The Napoleon Blownaparts' "Higher Education".

Mini schools under threat

Lennea Pacilla's daughter Kendra attends the Ideal School and Pacilla heads the parent advisory committee. Ideal is an independent mini school loosely attached to Sir Winston Churchill Secondary in South Vancouver which offers an enriched learning environment. It faces cuts that threaten the school's delicately balanced curriculum.

The school could add about 40 students, but it doesn't have space for them. Or it could drop either its English or French teacher or sacrifice counseling and library services to budget cuts. All of these spell "not ideal" to Pacilla.

"If we lost a teacher that would be one of our pillars. It would hobble our core function."

A secondary school math and English teacher-on-call, or substitute teacher, David Lubin said he expects to lose work next year.

"Someone who's just finishing up their education degree will likely be hardest hit," he said, adding that budget cuts will damage the earning potential of new teachers in ESL and special needs the most.

Like putting an anorexic on a diet

"We're scraping away at education's vital organs," Patti Bacchus, chair of the Vancouver Board of Education, told VO in a recent interview. "It's like putting an anorexic on a diet."

But Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid defended the province's education budget to CBC News in April. She accused the Vancouver School Board of "fear-mongering" and defended the shortfalls as stemming from falling enrollment.

Debates over the funding of public education cut to the very core of what our society believes government is for, Irene Lanzinger, president of the BC Teachers' Federation, said.

"It's a false notion that we are in such dire straits that we cannot afford public education, Lanzinger said.

"Look at the B.C. Place roof," Boubia said, referring to the estimated $458 million the government has slated to buy new retractable roof for the stadium, "They're giving that much funding to the stadium and they can't give us $20 million?"

Something clearly needs to change, Pascila, the Ideal PAC chair, said.

"The school system has been underfunded for year," she said, "I think it has to stop now before we bleed the system dry."

The most important thing to do now, Boubia said, is to make sure the public knows how students feel about the cuts to their schools.

"We see parents, PAC members voicing their opinions, but where are the students? We're the ones being affected."

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