Full school leaves Dickens annex kids in limbo

Parents worried out-of-catchment students can’t graduate to main school

Maggie Milne Martens enrolled her socially anxious eldest daughter in Dickens Annex after the family moved halfway through kindergarten. Milne Martens liked that children in Dickens Annex and Dickens elementary participate in multi-age learning with the same teacher for three years.

“It’s very, very stable and secure,” she said.

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Milne Martens subsequently enrolled her younger son in the annex, which accommodates students in kindergarten to Grade 3.

Now parents of approximately 40 out-of-catchment students in grades 1 to 3 in Dickens Annex worry their kids won’t be able to move to the main school for Grade 4. Milne Martens said 18 of 36 students in Grade 3 at the annex are out-of-catchment.  

Milne Martens’s family lives near the main Dickens school, outside the catchment boundaries.

David Nelson, a Vancouver School Board director of instruction, says out-of-catchment students at the annex have always had to apply to attend the main school. But the main school has historically had lots of space.

But Dickens main school, for kindergarten to Grade 7 students, is projected to be at or over capacity next year and the school board accommodates in-catchment kids first. The board doesn’t want to see in-catchment kindergarten kids bumped by out-of-catchment Grade 4 students.

Out-of-catchment parents say their kids wouldn’t bump in-catchment kids. But Nelson notes there are only so many classrooms and the board must make sure the school accepts a sustainable number of students to move forward from grade to grade.

After a stressful kindergarten experience at another school, Rob Macdonell moved his anxious son to Dickens Annex, which was much more “chill.” He subsequently enrolled his younger son there and the family moved closer to Dickens. They live one block outside of the catchment for Dickens main school.

Milne Martens guesses eight of 10 out-of-catchment families chose Dickens for its pedagogy that is unique in the city. Neither Macdonell nor Milne Martens want to see their children uprooted to a different school community.

Macdonell says a couple of other families with children at the annex were evicted from their rental homes in the catchment purportedly because of renovations. They were unable to find new rentals within the catchment and now their children might be ousted from their school community, too.

Dickens parents of out-of-catchment kids want their children grandfathered into the main school over the next three years.

Dickens PAC executive member Christy Thomas says she and other in-catchment parents want to see their children’s out-of-catchment friends accommodated, too.

The school board is working on solutions.

VSB spokesperson Kurt Heinrich told the Courier in an email that the board is monitoring kindergarten registration, which runs until the end of January, to see how many spaces will be needed in September.

VSB staff are to present options and solutions at a planning and facilities committee meeting, Jan. 21, with further discussion at a school board meeting, Jan. 26.

Dickens is just one of a handful of schools in adjacent areas of the city that are seeing a surge in enrolment, while total enrolment in the city has declined.



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