Veena Sachdeva smiles tentatively in the cold while standing outside of Wood Elementary School. She walked her two sons, Javen and Bhauvan, in Kindergarten and Grade 3, to school already and has gathered with some of her friends to talk about how losing this school is going to affect her family.
Sachdeva doesn’t speak English well yet, and she doesn’t drive. She walks everywhere; which is why she loves living near Wood Elementary School and Echo Centre. Everything is central for her family, she said. Losing the school is incomprehensible to her.
Mandeep Hayre, Balvir Hundal, Neelam Rani Lal, Vickie Windley-Henderson and Monty Sigurdson all nod in agreement. They all have children who are already at Wood (or in Hundal’s case, a son who will enter Kindergarten in September), and they are concerned that with school closures and reconfiguration looming in School District 70, their lives are going to become complicated.
Hundal and her husband moved to the area near Wood three years ago because of the amenities, including a nearby daycare for her one-year-old son.
Rani Lal feels the same way: she works shift work at the Best Western Barclay Hotel, and said it will be hard for her if her children have to go to separate schools (i.e. daycare close to home and elementary school elsewhere).
“I’m a working woman. I work shift work. It’s very difficult to drop off the kids and go to work.”
A lot of low income families live in the area.
Losing the school will be a hardship for many families, Windley-Henderson added. She thinks the district can find a way to keep the school for elementary students.
“They have two middle schools; why don’t they put [Grade 8 students] in the high school and leave the elementary schools K-7. It would be a lot easier.”
Seva Dhaliwal, whose grown children all attended Wood, is advocating for the retention of Wood as an elementary school.
“Young families living in central areas of Port Alberni have a right to expect at least one elementary school in their area,” she said.
Dhaliwal was a young mother herself when Calgary Elementary School was closed in 1997. “I understand what these families are going through,” she said.
“That time was very hard. I had just come from India, I couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t drive the car and my husband worked at a logging camp.”
The Dhaliwals eventually moved closer to Wood school so their three children could attend that school, she said. “I had a lot of involvement in that school. I’m thinking of my younger friends whose children go there now.”