Penticton students and parents cope with ongoing job action

Teachers' dispute with provincial government hasn't meant a lot of changes for many Penticton families

Like many parents

Like many parents

She has three kids enrolled at Queen’s Park Elementary, so it may come as a surprise to hear busy Penticton mom Carrie Olsen say teachers’ escalating job action hasn’t slowed down her family.

“It’s not affecting me right now,” she said Wednesday, while waiting to board a bus with her brood.

“The kids missed a couple days of school,” Olsen said,  “but I tend to agree with the teachers.”

Yes, educators have withdrawn extracurricular volunteer services, but her kids “are in extra stuff elsewhere.” And yes, her children’s report cards have been “slim,” but, “I talk to the teachers a lot, so I know how (the kids) are doing.”

Still, Olsen and her pals want to see teachers’ concerns resolved: “Most of the parents I talk to, they sympathize with the teachers.”

It’s a sentiment shared by parents and students to whom the Western News spoke, although opinions differed on the impacts of the teachers’ job action and the urgency of the need to end the dispute, which is ostensibly centered on teachers’ wages and class sizes. And while teachers and their employers pledged to leave kids out of it, another Penticton mom says that hasn’t been the case.

Jodie Lemke says she supports teachers’ rights to a fair contract, but is disappointed that her son, a kindergarten student at Queen’s Park, has missed out on field trips and other school-based activities because of the dispute.

“It’s really been tough on him,” she said. “Kindergarten, and school in general, is supposed to be fun.”

Lemke appreciates teachers’ desire for better wages, but,  “everyone’s struggling, everyone’s finding it hard to make a living.”

As Janice Sequeira sees it, though, wage increases are a must.

“I look at the job teachers do, and I wouldn’t be willing to do it for that amount of pay,” said Sequeira, whose daughter is a Grade 7 student at KVR Middle School.

“I know the government’s not backing down, but I think they have to have a little more give.”

Meanwhile, some students have apparently greeted the job action with a collective shrug.

With his high-school days drawing to a close, Grade 12 student Kris Marsel says the teachers’ dispute is of little concern to him, as life at Princess Margaret Secondary has gone on mostly as normal.

“It doesn’t really affect us too much other than the fact we missed school for a couple days,” he said.

Nor is the dispute something he and his friends discuss: “As long as we’ve got a school … it doesn’t really bother us.”

That’s no longer true for fellow Maggie senior Mitchell Gowing.

“I didn’t really care about it at the beginning of the year, but now that they’ve taken away extracurricular stuff, that really sucks,” Gowing said.

What sucked most for the budding thespian was the cancellation of this spring’s Rotary Good Will Shakespeare Festival in Summerland, which last year drew almost 500 drama students.

“Prom and grad and all that stuff could have been set on fire and I wouldn’t have shed a tear,” he said, “but I’m a lot more disappointed there won’t be a Shakespeare fest.”

Because of that, Gowing questions the merit of that particular negotiating tactic.

“I wish the teachers could find a more effective way of being able to convince the government of giving in to their demands,” he said. “Taking away our extracurricular activities, the government isn’t going to care about that. Why would they?”