Students fret over post-secondary plans

Photo illustration Candace Elliott / 00035440A

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Zachary Garbaty is thinking about taking a fifth year of studies at North Park Collegiate.

Garbaty, who is in Grade 12 and one of three student trustees on the Grand Erie District School Board, is among many high school students who say they’re finding course selection “more challenging” as the average class sized increased this fall and hundreds of teaching positions were lost across the province.

“The number of courses offered has been reduced,” said Garbaty, who wants to pursue a career in medicine. “The courses I wanted to take don’t fit into my schedule. I’m considering taking a victory lap because of it.”

Responding to many complaints, the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, which advocates for two million students at the provincial level, issued a statement last week.

“As course selections become more difficult, it may put students’ post-secondary paths in jeopardy due to admission requirements,” said president Sally Mesert, a Grade 12 student. “OSTA will continue to work with the Ministry of Education to create more positive change and achieve better outcome for students.”

Alexandra Hauser, a Grade 12 student at McKinnon Park Secondary School in Caledonia, who is also a student trustee with the Grand Erie board, agreed that setting up timetables has been more difficult this year.

“There are fewer options available for course selection,” Hauser said. “I have a friend in Grade 12 who needs a number of courses to graduate but the only ones he can take are those he’s not interested in and will never use again in his life. I took a lot of the required university courses last year. If I hadn’t done that I would have been in quite a situation.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in August that the government will limit the average secondary school class size to 22.5 students. However, because that figure is a board-wide average, individual class sizes could have more students. The Ford government’s four-year goal is 28 students.

Kimberly Newhouse, manager of communications for the Grand Erie, said the average class size now sits at 22.5 but said there could be differences in the number depending on the particular class.

Back in April, 84 Grand Erie secondary teachers were given redundancy notices, meaning they wouldn’t have jobs in September. Newhouse said all but one of those teachers were called back. However, teachers who retired were not replaced, she said.

Despite the larger class size plan, the Ford government has said no teacher will lose their job because of it, instead those who retire or resign won’t be replaced.

Newhouse said the frequency that some courses are being offered may be reduced as some teachers “may not be teaching a full slate.” That is due to several factors, she said, including reduced funding for the board, Ministry of Education changes, and lower student enrolment.

Chris Cowley, a history and religion teacher at St. John’s College, tweeted a photo last week of a classroom packed with desks for an advanced math class.

“I felt it important for parents, and the broader public, to understand that when the provincial government has a policy to raise class sizes, it’s not a theoretical exercise,” said Cowley. “It has real world consequences on the learning conditions of our students right here in Brantford.”

Cowley said teachers have noticed an increase in their class sizes over last year. He said Grade 9 academic English classes are at capacity and many math classes have up to 35 students.

Rick Petrella, chair of the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, said the average secondary school class size is 23.5 students across the board.

Although some classes are larger, Petrella said those, such as the math class tweeted by Cowley, have, for many years, started with 30 to 36 students and the number shrinks as the term progresses.

Taylor Carroll, student trustee with the Catholic board and a Grade 12 student at St. John’s, said she has noticed much larger class sizes this year.

“I have English, religion and French all of which have over 30 students,” she said. “My religion classroom is running out of desks to seat incoming students.”

Carroll said students are also upset by a reduction in the number of times a course is being offered, resulting in some of them being put on wait lists.

But spokespeople at both local boards say there is no reason for students to worry that they won’t be able to acquire the credits they need to meet university and college program requirements.

“With fewer teachers, the act of timetabling becomes very focused and purposeful early on so that pathways can be achieved,” said Petrella. “We do our very best to meet the needs of all students and offer alternatives, as well.”

Newhouse said there are creative ways of offering needed programs, including, for example, splitting some courses to include Grades 11 and 12.

“We will work with students to find the best plan with the offerings we have to take them down the path they choose,” said Newhouse. “We have no concerns about students getting the courses they need to graduate.”

E-learning is being offered to students as an alternative to being taught in the classroom. The Ontario government has made it mandatory for high school students to earn four online courses to graduate.

“That is a back-up plan,” said Garbaty. “But many students find it harder to be successful. There is no one-on-one with the teacher like there would be in the classroom.”

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