Surrey school overcrowding taking a toll, gov’t told

Space crunch at Lord Tweedsmuir negatively impacting students and staff, committee says.

Overcrowding at Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary has had a negative impact on students’ family lives, employment and post-secondary success and is pushing some P.E. classes into the hallways, according to a Surrey education advocacy group.

So far this year, enrolment at the Cloverdale high school is 1,893 students. The school, on 180 Street near 61 Avenue, was a built for 1,450 kids.

A report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Capital Funding for Surrey Schools delivered to the province’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services earlier this week at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel details the hardships facing students and staff due to the lack of school space.

The two gyms and one playing field, for example, are so inadequate that staff is considering getting ping pong tables and indoor curling equipment to hold physical education classes in the hallways. Science lab time is also at a premium.

As well, says the report delivered by parent Linda Stromberg, extended hours – earlier starts and later finish times – implemented at the school last fall to accommodate more students has impacted some teens’ lives adversely.

One student was unable to attend the advanced placement physics class, which denied him an “edge” on university and scholarship applications and he wasn’t accepted to UBC. Another was unable to take care of siblings after school or keep his job, which was especially stressful because the mother left the family part way through the year and the father is barely coping.

Another was unable to keep his part-time job after school – extra income Stromberg told the finance committee was “an absolute necessity, not a perk.”

Many Grade 12 students last year, she said, left home at 7 a.m. and arrived home at 5 p.m. and then had to do homework.

Capital funding for Surrey was announced last October for a pair of new elementary schools, expansions at two high schools (Fraser Heights and Panorama Ridge) and the purchase of land for four future schools. But Stromberg says it’s a drop in the bucket as those projects won’t be ready until fall 2013 and students continue to flow into Surrey at a rapid pace.

While enrolment numbers in the majority of B.C. school districts are declining, Surrey’s continues to increase, growing by an average of 500 students per year for the past decade.

Even if more funding was announced immediately, it takes between three and five years to build a high school.

Stromberg told the finance committee that this year, extended schedules are being used at Lord Tweedsmuir, Earl Marriott, Sullivan Heights and North Surrey, with Clayton Heights, Kwantlen Park and Tamanawis likely to follow suit next year.

“We therefore know today, that if funding for those two new high schools is announced tomorrow, given normal time frames, we will have at least seven extremely overcrowded high schools with extended schedules and additional portables before those new schools open,” Stromberg said.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Capital Funding for Surrey Schools, a non-partisan group that lobbies for building money, asked that funding be provided for Surrey’s priority school projects.

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