At least a dozen students walked out of their classes Wednesday morning in Agassiz, taking what homework they could carry down the halls of AESS, passing their teachers and administration and heading out the front door.
Once out, they said they were told they wouldn’t be allowed back in.
Some tried to sign out properly, others knew it would be futile, as #walkout2014 got underway across the province.
Thousands of B.C. students were expected to participate in the walkout, many of them fed up with their teachers’ strike action and the government lockouts.
“I think all of this could have been done without a strike,” said Cassandra Grand, a Grade 9 AESS student. Students in the Fraser Cascade have been told those participating in the walkout will have to make the missed class time up through detentions. But they wonder, with teachers unable to help students before and after school, or during breaks, when that extra class time would happen.
“They’re the ones ruining our class time in the first place,” Grand said. “They’re ruining our chances to get good grades in our final exams.”
Jessi Sparks will be crossing the stage at AESS on Friday night for commencement, along with her 37 fellow grads. She said the threat of punishment for walking out is “hypocritical” considering the confusion that exists in their learning environment. She was among the dozen or so students who walked out and set up a protest in front of the Agassiz library. As they danced and screamed for support, passing cars honked in support.
“I’m mostly here because I’m tired of being stuck in the middle,” Sparks said. “Teachers are supposed to be helping us but they’re hindering us. They say it’s all for us. It’s like being stuck between a divorce.”
Wednesday was the only day this week that B.C. schools were not affected by the rotating strike action implemented by the BCTF — a strike action that has now gone on for two weeks.
The students who walked out in Agassiz on Wednesday aren’t just upset about the strike action and lockouts. They are also tired of crowded classrooms, cutbacks, teachers without resources, and what they see as misspending of school district funds.
“You never get enough one on one time with teachers,” said Emily Steward, Grade 10. Alanah Paris, also in Grade 10, agreed. She is also very worried that the past two weeks without full teacher support will affect her final grades.
“Sometimes I’ll stay after school,” she said, for help in math and sciences. “And now I can’t get help.”
She’s “struggling to remember formulas” that she knows will be on the finals. But the struggles started right at the school year, she said, when the Planning 10 course didn’t even have enough desks for all the students in the class. In another class, her teacher had to split the class into two computer rooms, spreading instructing time among two completely separate groups.
They have heard AESS may lose their portables over the summer, and that has them wondering how crowded classes will be when they return in the fall.
Some of the girls who walked out Wednesday said they would love to have a sewing class to complement the foods course. Sparks said she’s been unimpressed with the high priority her school has on sports, while the arts isn’t as supported.
She said there are at least four teachers for sports, but only one art teacher.
“The walls are plastered with sports achievements, but there’s one little section on a wall for arts,” she said. “I understand our school is small but we still need things.”
They were anxiously waiting to find out if teachers will be allowed to attend graduation ceremonies on Friday night. That day there will be no school in Fraser Cascade, as part of the BCTF rotating strike action. The ceremony has been moved up to 5:30 p.m. as picket lines end at 5 p.m.
Lynne Marvell, president of the Fraser-Cascade Teachers’ Association, said that decision would be heard at 4 p.m. on Wednesday from the Labour Relations Board, after this newspaper’s deadline.
Teachers at AESS typically hand out awards, emcee the event, run the audio visual and even usher the graduation ceremony.
“They’ve spent all this time with us to help us finish school and they aren’t even allowed to be there,” Sparks said.