Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: Stuart Wood

A Few Issues I Am Struggling With

Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday June 27, 2014

I choose to call them blunders of our times, if you’d allow me. Here’s a sample:

Locally, the school dilemma. On Monday, the decision was made regarding Stuart Wood Elementary. It will be moved on McGill Street, starting with September 2016.

One of the main points made during the meeting was that this is done in the best interest of children. The school, being an old heritage building and such, requiring lots of costly upgrades, is not suitable for children: not safe enough, not big enough. Fair points, reiterated as a justifying monologue since a dialogue at that point was thought to create a bad precedent. Dialogues inviting to brainstorming create good precedents; democracy relies on dialogue and feedback.

The big issue of not having a community school just got bigger. Children cannot walk to school anymore, a good chunk of downtown liveliness just went out the window. I cannot help but wonder about students who might arrive at the bus stop too late because life tripped them that particular morning and about the increased pollution due to increased traffic on Columbia Street.

Air pollution has been declared a carcinogen by the World Health Organization last year. Allergies and asthma in children are at an all-time high, and particulate matter is already an ugly guest in Kamloops. Increased pollution in our city is not in the best interest of children. Clean air is.

But clean air is becoming a precious commodity, whether we like it or not. And it will only get worse if we put more cars on the road, drive more and idle more. Which we do, every day. An ‘idle-free city’ status reinforced by law is long overdue.

Locally and globally, the plastic dilemma. I see it as I walk around town, I see it when we go camping, and there are reports of oceans being covered in plastic while becoming depleted in fish.

At the same time, retail stores abound with plastic products, with even more coming whenever a holiday is approaching. We allow for the manufacturing of a plastic forest that prevents us to see the real trees…

Plastic is a great invention and incredibly useful, but not all and not in the amounts present nowadays. Much of it also affects human health, children most of all. Just to put things in perspective, approximately 280 million tonnes of plastic are produced yearly and recycling touches but a mere 15 percent.

At the same time, pipeline and mine decisions circle overhead like a bunch of hungry crows and it feels like the only thing worth doing is making a circle the way elephants do, putting our young in the middle so they’ll be protected no matter what. Are we? Are they?

Globally and locally, pesticide use. They are still around, those discreet ‘notice of pesticide use’ on lawns here and there. Desert or not, we want our lawns green and lush.

Pesticides are also used widely because that’s how you grow food for many, we’re told.

Well, food is plentiful in every grocery store, so plentiful in fact that it gets thrown out. Pesticides are known to affect human health, children in the first place (a fresh off-the-press study connected pesticide use with autism) and they are killing bees. Without bees there is no food. If we add climate change to the equation, also affecting crops, it doesn’t look pretty. Abundance has an expiration date when not backed up by sustainable agriculture.

One of my biggest dilemmas, though, is this: there are chemicals present in our world, some very toxic and many independent studies proved it.

Yet the people who are in the business of promoting their use, designing marketing schemes to dress them up and shrugging off any evidence of harm even when being thrown in front of them, I just wonder how do they live their days knowing that what they do affects people’s lives irreversibly. Self-justification is a powerful tool all people use, but it can only go so far. If a conscience is present that is.

Here’s truth that cannot be denied: the sun sets on the western horizon in everyone’s world, everyone’s crops are affected the same way when bees die, and all children eat and breathe chemicals if chemicals are present. It invites to sharing responsibility, a desirable state-of-being, able to throw off the best-designed PR justifying haze before it engulfs our brains.

As for that stubborn belief that I hold onto, it’s this: we can do better, I am sure we can.

Critical Thinking Develops, Just Like A Muscle, When Used Often

(Published as a column in the AM News on Friday June 20, 2014)

To protectTwo issues are topping this week’s hot list. One local – the imminent closure of Stuart Wood Elementary – and one provincial, the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

As it happens, they seem to have at least two common denominators. The first is that they will affect more than the present generations and they will cause changes to the landscape as we know it.

The second is that such decisions require open and extended public consultations and a strong dose of critical thinking in order to be deemed acceptable by the majority of people, an important safeguarding feature of any democracy.

The Stuart Wood imminent closure has brought forth a sad reality and it extends past the walls of the actual heritage building. The downtown needs a public English-speaking elementary school. Lloyd George is a French immersion school that could be converted, once again, to a dual track. Or another site can be considered as a potential location for a new school.

Should the school close, the whole face of the downtown will change; its vibrancy will suffer and new families may be deterred from moving in, knowing that they’ll have to buss their children to a school up the hill.

As the saying goes, when there is a will, there is a way. In this case, it could be paved with some solid critical thinking bricks leading to a result that will benefit families with young children and all residents who want their community to stay as vibrant as ever. Schools can do that.

As for the Northern Gateway pipeline, yes, it was approved. No big surprise there.

The decision was made after an independent panel reviewed scientific data, the PM said, and yes, it is supposed to bring tremendous economic growth and create new jobs.

And who in their right mind would stand in the way of economic growth and more jobs (though opponents argue that more existing ones will be lost should the pipeline happen)?

The answer is no one; if it’s done right, that is.

By the looks of it, there are still multiple issues regarding the pipeline. Will the jobs (most of them temporary, let’s not forget that, once the pipeline is built) be given to Canadians, and how much of the revenue will stay in the province?

Yet he ultimate question and most important is, of course, how much is the pristine beauty of that area of the province is worth, should a spill occur. You simply cannot put a price to that or risk it in any way.

According to Nature Canada, the oldest nature conservation charity in Canada, a pipeline has an estimated ‘one in four chance of a major spill during its lifespan.’ Any risk of a spill is too much.

The process leading to the final decision was anything but responsible, according to a group of 300 unapologetic scientists who called the Northern pipeline report flawed and useless. Environmental groups, regular citizens and a coalition of BC aboriginal groups openly opposed the project, saying that the pipeline should not happen.

Too much to risk, they say and not enough to gain.

Here’s an analogy: imagine you’re standing on a cliff by the water, ready to jump in. You are a good swimmer, but there are boulders that can hurt you as you jump. Some say the risk is minimal, the risk too small to count, others say the risk is high and the effects irreversible; they say you shouldn’t. Would you still jump?

Critical thinking is what we employ in making decisions. From every day small ones to big, monumental ones that are to be reflected onto many generations to come as well as the present ones, and also sealing the fate of the place we call home, province and country-wide both.

We tell our kids to think before they act and be ready to face the consequences. But if consequences are not immediate, as in this case, who will be facing them?

Critical thinking is required in today’s world more than anything. We’re bombarded with a flurry of information, we have to choose, we have to stand by an issue or another, and, bottom line: we have to be present in the community, just like we are in our own homes, and have a say in the decisions to be made.

In case of decisions involving more than one person and one generation, the effect of any ill-fated mishap is multiplied to the point of being impossible to estimate.

Critical thinking, getting involved and voicing an opinion might just prevent that.

How else can we look into our children’s eyes and say ‘to the best of my knowledge, I did everything I could’ without looking down because in truth, we know we did not…

Kids Need Many Things; Among Them, A Community School

Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday, May 30, 2014. 

One of the books both my sons loved when they were little was ‘The Little House’ written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton, first published in 1942. It tells the story of a house that stood ever so happily on a hill, surrounded by apples trees and the sound of children.

The house stood as the hills became more populated and a new city grew around it until – spoiler alert! – city life almost crushed the little house. Luckily, it was saved by the well-meaning descendants of the people who built it.

Lots of meaningful lessons to say the least.

We read it countless times. Every time they would look at the detailed drawings they’d find yet another thing they’d missed last time.

Here’s what I will always remember about it, unrelated to the way it was written. I bought the book when my oldest son was two and we had just moved into a neighborhood that had an old street with many old stores. Among them, a children’s bookstore with many gems and reasonably priced.

A year later, the bookstore closed and was sorely missed. Rent and maintenance costs were too high.

Many old stores in Vancouver had the same fate and so did many old, yet well-built heritage houses. Unfortunately, there was no timely arrival of well-meaning descendants of the people who built them to save them all…

The recent discussions about the closure of Stuart Wood Elementary brought back the memories of those days and much more.

A few days ago, many feared that the fate of the school was to be announced during a School Board meeting, but the said meeting was in fact a presentation of the available options.

The alternatives to what we have at the moment are many and interesting at that.

One is moving Stuart Wood Elementary to where the Beattie School of Arts now stands and thus following a chain of events that imply a massive shuffling of students between many schools. Or we could renovate it to bring it up to a modern standard and take it from there.

The first has been met with resistance from students, parents and teachers for many good reasons.

The other, which implies a series of serious renovations to the existing Stuart Wood building, a designated heritage building and presently owned by the City of Kamloops, brings out many important issues as well.

Some necessary modifications, such as an external fire escape, are inapplicable due to the heritage designation (though some believe that they could be done nonetheless,) and removal of asbestos can be potentially harmful if not done right. And yes, renovations are expensive. Very.

As it stands now, the school is not suitable for what a school should offer. There is restricted parking for staff members, which could be a serious issue should an emergency vehicle be needed at the school, there is no access for disabled students, staff or parents, and some of the students bathrooms are, simply put, scary to some of the young students. Dark and moldy can do that.

If these problems could be solved, and others too (increased enrollment numbers sound good only on paper when a school is not suitable for increased numbers,) the bright side is that Kamloops would maintain a beautiful heritage building that has long served the community and has seen many generations of students graduate and bidding goodbye to its unique Doric columns proudly guarding one of the entrances.

Another alternative proposed by one of the school trustees, Annette Glover, is to move the students from Stuart Wood to Lloyd George (thus make the latter bi-lingual once again,) so that children residing in the downtown area will have access to a community school.

With options abounding and no solution yet, here’s the most important thing of all: every community needs a school. More so, it needs a school that children can walk to.

Whether we are parents of students from any of these schools, downtown residents or not, we should agree that a community school is not something we should let go.

As it stands now, Stuart Wood Elementary is the only English-speaking school in the downtown area and it is not a school of choice, but one that serves downtown residents, including many low-income ones whose options go from limited to very limited should a community school disappear.

Yet renovating and keeping it as a school takes a back seat to the vital issue this closure has brought forth: the possible disappearance of a community school. That, we cannot and should not allow.

When we lose a community school, we fail our children. Let’s not.

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