Demographic changes affect schools

The potential closure of Giant’s Head School, along with other possible school closures should not come as a surprise to anyone.

The potential closure of Giant’s Head School, along with other possible school closures within the Okanagan Skaha School District should not come as a surprise to anyone.

For years, staff and administrators at the school district have watched as enrolment has been on a gradual decline.

It was not too many years ago that the schools in Summerland were full and at times, portables were needed to house additional classes. Today, there are not nearly as many students.

At first glance, the declining enrolment trend seems puzzling. Summerland has seen slight increases in its population over the years. If the increases were evenly distributed throughout all age demographics, school enrolment numbers should increase slightly, or at the very least, remain stable.

A closer look at census data tells a different story.

The population of Summerland — and the population of Canada — is aging.

Earlier this year, for the first time in Canadian history, there were more people 65 and older than there were 15 and younger.

Against such a backdrop, if a community’s population remains relatively stable, the number of retirees will increase while the number of children will decrease.

This is exactly what has happened in Summerland.

In 1996, there were 1,919 Summerland residents 14 years of age and younger. The latest Statistics Canada census data, from 2011, showed just 1,440 children 14 and younger.

During this same time, the total population in Summerland grew from 10,584 to 11,280, an increase of 696 people.

Summerland has long identified itself as a small community and many who live here speak of “small-town charm” as one of the qualities they value most highly.

The importance of this small-town atmosphere is mentioned every time a growth plan is presented and every time a large-scale development proposal is brought forward.

Even if other issues are raised during discussions about growth, many will speak out about the importance of preserving Summerland’s character as a small community.

Those who moved here from elsewhere often say they do not want to live in Vancouver, Calgary or another large centre.

At the same time, the possibility of a school closure is deeply disturbing.

A school is part of a small town’s identity, and the closure of a school alters that identity.

The school board has not yet made a decision on whether Giant’s Head School will be closed. That won’t happen until January, and it is possible that Summerland will retain all its schools.

However, if Summerland does not experience school closures, it would likely be just a temporary reprieve.

As long as the board has to cope with limited funding from the province and a declining student population in Summerland, school closures will remain a serious possibility.

This leaves our community with a difficult choice.

If we want to choose no growth or limited growth in order to preserve our small-town atmosphere, school enrolment numbers will continue to dwindle.

If we want to retain the present education model of elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, then we need to attract families with school-aged children. Should this happen, Summerland would see a noticeable change in its demographic makeup.

Those are the two options. Either one would have significant implications and trade-offs for the entire community.

What choice would you like to see for Summerland?

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

 

Just Posted

LETTER: Slow down to save fuel and money

Many motorists observed speeding along Highway 97

COLUMN: Finding the joy during the holiday season

For some, instead of joy and cheer there is sadness, loneliness, even depression at Christmas

Zucca melons were once used in fruitcakes

The zucca melon, introduced to the Okanagan in the late 1930s, was once used in fruitcakes and jams

Godsmack and Volbeat coming to Penticton

Tour includes a stop at the South Okanagan Events Centre

Sagmoen back in Vernon court this week

Curtis Wayne Sagmoen will appear on all three Vernon matters this week

B.C. lumber industry trade mission still has high hopes for China

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson cut short trip after Japan, Korea stops

Snowmobile guide killed in accident on Queest Mountain

Shuswap sledding communty mourns loss of experienced Sicamous snowmobiler

Lawyer for Chinese exec detained by Canada says it’s ‘inconceivable’ she would flee

Meng Wanzhou was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport

Omar Khadr to ask for Canadian passport to travel, permission to speak to sister

He spent years in U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay after he was caught when he was 15

One of Tori Stafford’s killers transferred to medium-security prison

Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 in the kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder of Tori Stafford

‘Abhorrent’ condition of autistic B.C. boy shows flaws in care system: report

‘Charlie’ was underweight and ‘covered in feces’ when he was removed from his mom’s care

Military closes book on oft-criticized support unit for ill, injured troops

The transition unit will provide support and services to military members struggling with physical and mental injuries so they can return to work.

Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson named NHL’s first star of the week

Canucks centre scored two goals and six assists in three games

Most Read