On a minus 30 degrees centigrade day in Toronto, the children of Rejoyce Childcare Centre are gathered in the school gym for their physical play time instead of being out in the playground after school waiting for their parents to come pick them up.
On about a dozen square scooters of rainbow colours, children roll each other around in the gym holding hands, sometimes forming chains.
“Can you pull me?,” Kyle Thomas, 6, asks a teacher after he is left out of one of the chains.
“Yes, of course,” the teacher replies as she rolls him across the gymnasium floor on his blue scooter, knowing he enjoys one on one attention from teachers.
Rejoyce Childcare Center is more than just a building to many families, as it serves essential additional purposes for the community like child care and after school programs. It is located inside Joyce Public School, which almost made it on the list of 60 TDSB schools that are to come under review by the provincial government to potentially close down or get boundary changes due to underutilization over the next 3 years.
The school escaped the list due to being 90% utilised to capacity, but the school’s principle Roula Skordakis believes more factors than simply the enrollment status of a school need to be considered when reviewing schools for closure or boundary changes.
“Joyce Public School is home to a childcare centre, the Ontario Early Years Program, a music room and an art room, specialty programs that not all schools have. We also have an international languages program, where once a week kids spend 2 to 3 hours learning Vietnamese, Spanish and other languages,” she said. “These are programs available not just to students, but other members of the community also.”
Jessica Guevara and Luis Obando are picking up their 2 kids that attend Rejoyce Childcare Center, but do not attend Joyce Public School. They attend Regina Mundi Catholic School.
“This is the closest childcare center to any school in my area, so they have to go here. When they think about closing the schools down, they have to consider that if for example, this one closed down, I don’t know what other daycare would bring them to school in the morning and pick them up after school,” says Guevara. “Then I don’t know what I would do.”
“Bye Estaban!,” Thomas yells as his friend is getting picked up.
“Two more minutes?,” Estaban Guevara-Obando, 3, asks his parents, anxious to keep rolling around on his scooter.
“Hurry up, it is so cold outside,” his father replies.
Principle Skordakis believes the geographic location of a school and whether the students in the community have means of transportation to and from school should be taken into consideration as well- because further distance from the school to a child can have a negative impact on parents living within or near the poverty line.
“When parents don’t drive, what does that mean? Do they have to be going on the bus? For parents, extra tickets for them. More time that they need to get to the school and what resources are at the school,” she said. “So I can tell you that Fairbank doesn’t have a daycare so if we suddenly shut down, everyone that is connected to the daycare, where would those children go? Where is the nearest daycare? It would mean some parents would not be able to work. That would be a huge financial pit for families that are already living close to the poverty line.”
With Joyce Public School ranked at 63 out of 474 elementary schools by the TDSB on the Learning Opportunity index, the TDSB’s own way of measuring the neediness of a school taking into account the income of families that attend it, parents feel the need for schools to remain open in their community for the support they provide.
Hermana Andrade is a single mother of one, Asian Andrade, 6, who goes to both the Rejoyce Childcare Center and the Joyce Public School.
“I walk here, it is five minutes. It is so close,” she says, still shivering from her walk to pick her son up. ”I can’t imagine taking him to a school far away. It would be difficult on him especially in the on a cold day like today.”
Now, with fewer children to get picked up, there is a single chain of 4 kids across the gym being pulled by one leader child.
Asian Andrade, still in the chain, is very attached to the staff in the school and his friends at both the childcare center and at school according to his mother.
“Kyle is my best friend here,” says Asian, finally having to detach from the chain to go home.
“Where is my mom?,” asks Thomas as his friend leaves for the day.
“She is on her way to pick you up,” his teacher tells him. “She should be here soon.”
Principle Skordakis has experienced the closure of one of her schools in the past and thinks it can be very emotionally difficult on a community to face a school closure.
She was the principle at Briar Hill Public School, which closed down due to under enrollment and the students were then divided to 2 different schools, Fairbank Public School and West Preparatory Junior Public School.
“I went through the painful experience of seeing children and parents that had grown up in that community, gone to school there, their parents had attended the school,” she said. “The school was part of their history, their family’s history. There were memories built in. I attended summer there, I attended this program there and it was extremely difficult. I had tears throughout that year.”
Principal Skordakis believes an important part of the process, if a school is going to close is to help with the building between the students from the closing school and those that are from the receiving school, something she did when Briar Hill closed down.
“Some kids, because of the division had to leave their friends. West Prep is a school of 550 so they went from a school of 150 to a school of 550, so from knowing everybody in the school to knowing no one,” she said. “This is a situation where they need help adjusting so as educators and member of the community we need to help make that transition easier because it can be hard for them.”
As Joyce Public School is not on the list of schools to be reviewed for closure or boundary changes, it is going to continue serving the North York Community, but the same thing cannot be said about 60 other schools, many of which are in the poorer neighbourhoods of Toronto according to the Toronto Star.
Thomas’s mother finally comes to pick him up.
“Has he been good today?,” she asks with a skeptical expression on her face as she hugs him.
“He had a good day today,” the teacher replies.
“See you tomorrow!,” Kyle says as he finally goes home for the day.