Toronto

Low-income students to be hardest hit as TDSB looks to trim outdoor education programs, some warn

As the Toronto District School Board looks to trim spending amid a $67-million shortfall, some are warning low-income children stand to be some of the hardest hit when it comes to outdoor education.

Board proposing shutdown of 4 out of 10 centres as it contends with $67M budget hole

Grade 7 student Madelyn Au and her mother, Claudia Mio, had been been to the Toronto Urban Studies Centre for the first time on Wednesday when they learned about a proposal to shut it down. (Paul Borkwood)

As the Toronto District School Board looks to trim spending amid a $67-million shortfall, some are warning low-income children stand to be some of the hardest hit when it comes to outdoor education.

The board is proposing closing down four of its 10 outdoor education centres with the goal of saving $3 million dollars — just one of a number of proposals to make up for a $42-million cut in provincial funding.

"This is a tough decision," said board chair Robin Pilkey, adding the board has to prioritize so as to have as little impact in the classroom as possible.

"We live in an urban area and lots of kids don't have access to outdoor education experiences ... Ideally we'd like to keep all of them open, but we just do not have the funding for that."

Last week, the board announced it would be receiving $13 million less than anticipated from the province, and was looking at a string of potential cuts — including everything from French immersion staffing to school buses, to literacy courses and guidance support — to make up for the hole, of which the board's own structural deficit accounted for $25.7 million.

"Unfortunately, nobody is going to be happy in the end," Pilkey said of the cuts, adding the board is limited in what it can and can't choose to cut.

4 centres on the chopping block

In a statement last week, a spokesperson for the province's Ministry of Education said the government is "extremely proud" of the changes being made to education. The board will be receiving nearly $3 billion this year, said Kalya Lafelice, adding any savings the TDSB has to find are its own responsibility.

"Our government is protecting what matters most by delivering an education system that puts student achievement at the centre of everything we do," said Lafelice, adding there's been limited oversight of education spending over the past 15 years. 

It's really unfortunately because you don't get a lot of opportunities to do stuff like this and it's really a privilege.- Madelyn Au, Grade 7 student

On the chopping block are: Etobicoke Field Studies Centre, Warren Park Outdoor Education Centre, Etobicoke Outdoor Education Centre and the Toronto Urban Studies Centre. 

Chris Metropolis, an outdoor education specialist with the TDSB, says the choice to cut the programs is baffling, particularly because they largely rely on public and board-owned space and have relatively low overhead costs as a result.

Among the focuses of his day-long program is reducing stormwater run-off, surveying front yards and creating habitats in urban environments. 

Metropolis, who's been in the job 15 years, says he's especially concerned about the disproportionate impact on low-income families.

'Experiential learning has huge benefits'

"We are a low-cost trip for many inner-city schools," he said.

"We're obviously devastated, the teachers that visit us are devastated … Research has suggested that experiential learning has huge benefits for students' successes and we see that every day."

Chris Metropolis, an outdoor education specialist with the TDSB, says the choice to cut the programs is baffling, particularly because they largely rely on public and board-owned space and have relatively low overhead costs as a result. (Paul Borkwood/CBC )

Grade 7 student Madelyn Au had been been to the Toronto Urban Studies Centre for the first time on Wednesday.

"It's just like a different way of learning instead of being inside," she said.

"It's really unfortunately because you don't get a lot of opportunities to do stuff like this and it's really a privilege," she said of the proposal to shut it down.

Her mother, Claudio Mio, agreed, saying she was struck by the level of engagement and focus of students participating in the program.

The possibility that might no longer be an option for some is very upsetting, she said. 

"We are bringing the kids outside and student outside and they're the voices of tomorrow and they need to experience these types of things," Mio said.

"Especially environmentally, what they're learning about, saving water, more green space. These are all instrumental things that our children need to know and that we all need to learn about."

There will be two more public consultations before the board of trustees votes on the final funding proposal on June 19.

 

 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now