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April 29, 2007

An Uneven Playing Field

Nosign“It was just so obvious that if you didn’t [fundraise] you got nothing. The playgrounds that were getting built were the places where the parents had all chipped in.”
- Caz Zyvatkauskas, the parent of a student at Orde Street Junior Public School, in the heart of downtown Toronto, quoted in
The Playground Wars, by Alfred Holden, Taddle Creek Magazine, Summer 2002.

Peterborough This Week has an excellent story about playground politics in its current issue -- specifically about how the need to fundraise for playground equipment is dividing local schools into "have's" and "have nots."

At the root of the problem is the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board's policy of excluding playground equipment from the list of educational necessities that it provides for its students (and this in an era of sky-rocketing child obesity rates). Parents are expected to fundraise for anything else. This means that schools that draw from wealthier neighbourhoods have a greater opportunity to fundraise for playground equipment than schools from lower-income neighbourhoods.

Parents from one school community note that it took them five years to raise the $20,000 required to purchase new playground equipment five years ago -- equipment that is now deemed unsafe.

The associate director of education, who is quoted in the article, doesn't appear to be troubled by the fact that students being served by the same board of education -- and a publicly funded school board at that -- will provide drastically different outdoor play experiences to students attending different schools because the parents at one school are less well off.

"People believe everything has to be the same, but it's not the same," Sherry Summersides, associate director of education for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, told Peterborough This Week. "There's no definition of public education that says everyone has to be the same. It wouldn't be reasonable or logical for us to do that. There's a breaking point. What do we have to have in place for student achievement and what are the nice to haves. It has to be the local school that makes that decision."

I would argue in favour of top-level leadership: in order to live up to the values spelled out in its statement of mission and vision, the Kawartha Pine Ridge School Board needs to takes a leadership role and to act with principles of social justice in mind. Downloading playground equipment fundraising responsibilities to school communities that lack fundraising capacity amounts to passing the buck where there's no buck to be had. That's no solution at all.


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Good point! Very good point. I'm in it myself right now and every word you wrote rang in my head like a bell.
Thank you!

Great issue. I'll never understand how such a wealthy country can justify treating kids so shabbily just because their parents lack money, resources, clout...

That's SOP here for public and school playgrounds.

We just finished spending about five years fundraising for a playground. It was tough and we live in an area where we could---and did---tap the community and a grant program.

Now the new school has no playground equipment and so it all begins again.

Awesome issue to raise. (Here from the Just Posts.) I agree with your conclusion.

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