A boisterous and enthusiastic SRO crowd of 250+ eastsiders crammed into the old Astorino’s space last night to protest the potential closure of Britannia Secondary School.
Those in attendance included Jenny Kwan MP, Shane Simpson, Melanie Mark, Rod Fleming (MLAs) and a number of members of the Vancouver School Board. Many of these politicos were among fifteen speakers, shepherded by Bob Fitzpatrick as MC and cheerleader.
Many of the speakers rhapsodised on what Britannia means to its community: it is not just a bunch of buildings, teachers, and students but is rather “the foundation and heart” of our neighbourhood, and the builder of dreams. “What would be the true socio-economic cost of closing Britannia?” asked one speaker. Closure would leave “an enormous vacuum,” said another.
A number of Britannia-specific education issues were mentioned as reasons to save the school: it is the only east side school with an International Baccalaureate program (and extraordinarily successful, too); it has an excellent Alternative Schooling programme that has helped many struggling students to excel (and which became the first school in Canada to have a team climb Mount Kilimanjaro last year); and the school population is about 25% aboriginal, with a high level of success at cooperative integration and wrap-around services.
It was especially interesting and inspiring to hear some of the current students and recent graduates tell their stories, explaining in the most compelling way how Britannia had positively affected their lives. Others spoke about the “friendships and relationships” that have developed over the years.
One of the reasons given by the Province why schools like Britannia should close is that they have a lower-than-desired capacity. However, a number of speakers lauded the smaller number of students noting that larger mega-schools will not and cannot give the kind of individual attention that Britannia students currently enjoy. In fact, there were a number of complaints that needy kids can get “lost” within a mega-school system.
One speaker called for protection of the heritage Britannia site; and another noted the contradiction between the closure of the school and the proposed increase in GW population in the GW Community Plan. Federico Fuocco remembered that Britannia gave immigrants a feeling of camaraderie and belonging.
In the end, the meeting threatened to become an NDP election rally. I guess that is not surprising given (a) that we are in a pre-election mode; (b) the continuing push by the Liberals to privatize government services including health and education; and (c) the failure of any Liberal to show up and defend their policies.
The final decision will apparently be announced on 26th September. We have just those few days to make sure the VSB understands that Britannia must be saved. Referring to the notion that Britannia Secondary be folded into Templeton, the cheers were loudest when someone said “We are Bruins not Titans!”
The appropriate slogan is: Don’t Quit on Brit.