The loss of Grade 6 and 7 students from Bradner elementary school could spell the end for a 97-year-old tradition and lead to an exodus from the public system, parents say.
The Abbotsford school district has proposed moving students in those grades from six rural schools to middle schools in the city core. The move would bring the rural schools – Bradner, Mt. Lehman, Aberdeen, Ross, Barrowtown and Upper Sumas – into conformity with the city’s other K-5 elementaries. But the proposal, which will be voted on by the school board in February, has drawn opposition from many parents.
The district, which is holding information sessions on the proposal this week and next, says the inconsistency among elementary schools poses logistical challenges. They note that it also means the rural students also currently end up attending different schools in three consecutive years and don’t benefit from a “full middle school educational experience.”
But Amanda McAllister, a parent of three Bradner students, said parents are unanimously against the proposal and have been discussing sending students to private schools or in the neighbouring Langley school district, instead of the under-utilized Reimer middle school, as proposed by the district. An online survey she created found 109 of 114 Bradner and Mt. Lehman parents opposed the grade reconfigurations.
McAllister says parents are devoted to Bradner’s grade structure and its community feel, and there are also worries that the annual May Day celebrations – which are organized by the Bradner Parents Advisory Council – will be affected by changes. Not only are Bradner parents instrumental in the events organization, but highlights of the 97-year-old event include a maypole dance by older Bradner students and the crowning of a May Day king and queen from among the Grade 7 class.
“It’s a great tradition,” McAllister said. “It’s important to the school and important to the community, and it’s something special that we don’t want to lose.”
McAllister said she attended a recent information session at Reimer and was impressed with the administrators and staff there. But she said if the Bradner kids end up dispersed around the region, then she may follow suit and would consider sending her children to a private school.
“Bradner is a special area because we’re a sort of community,” McAllister said, adding that the school has done an excellent job at incorporating outdoor learning into the curriculum.
“I think there’s something really special at Bradner that we don’t get anywhere else.”
McAllister said she understands why the district has proposed the reconfiguration, but doubts that it will succeed, given the resistance by parents.
At Thursday’s information meeting for the school, she presented a proposal that would see Bradner designated a Kindergarten-to-Grade 8 Nature School of Choice.
In an email to The News, Bradner parents Darren and Laurie Brader said they’re concerned about sending students to Reimer because of the Townline Hill gang conflict, which has seen numerous criminal incidents – ranging from property crime to homicide – in the area over the last year.
Similarly, Conny Corcoran wrote the school district to say she will look west to Langley if the Abbotsford school district follows through on its plan.
“I have specifically chosen Bradner Elementary to be the best choice for my children because of the fact that it does go to Grade 7,” she wrote. “I do not believe sending my children into such a large sea of change at the age of 11/12 is at all appropriate for their mental stability … These are the years of so much change within themselves that they need the most stable environment that we can possibly provide.”
In an email Thursday to The News, the district stated: “We look forward to the presentation of information and resulting discussions with parents at our three consultation meetings. So far, there’s been a good exchange of ideas and information, in a respectful and open atmosphere.
“In February we will schedule follow-up meetings at each of the six rural schools, to review additional information and respond to some of the suggestions made.”