By: Angelica Alamos
I wanted to start this podcast by saying hello, and welcome to everyone who is listening. My name is Angelica, and this will be my episode on community centres within Toronto, the fundings they receive from the city and the programs they offer. I will be touching upon my opinion on them, where I think there is room for improvement, if any, and I'll be getting others' opinions alongside with mine..
So here's to trying not to stutter too too much.
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Just a tiny disclaimer before we start here, I was a community centre kid, I did a lot of programs in the summer when I was a kid. I did swimming, I went up to my lifeguard level actually. I did dancing, and art... I did basketball for a while.
So, this is something that touches close to me, but I am going in very open minded, looking at all angles and making sure that, it's not biased.
But before we start, let me set a scene for you…
So, if you can close your eyes, close them, picture this... If you don't, that's fine... if you can't... please don't....
But let me set this scene for you....
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You’re a young child… maybe 10 years old, you enjoy school, it’s the only place you get to do the things you like... like read... or play outside… you get to play ball hockey or soccer with your friends, something the drive way at home is too small for, and your friend lives a little far, so it’s not like you could walk to his house and ask him to play.
Then as the last bell of the day rings, it sets in… its time to go home... time to face reality again, and be either locked in your room doing endless hours of homework, to which you’ll fall asleep on, browse the internet for hours on end… or plop in front of the tv to watch cartoons….
To some kids, it might not even be a big deal… some are all too happy to hear the words - “go watch tv.” But to some parents the reality is so much more different…
Let’s set a different scene….
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You’re a parent… you drop your child off at school every morning and rush off to work… knowing very well that if you run in five minutes late, your boss would chew your ear off about being punctual… and this wouldn’t be a huge deal… really, you could be there on time, if it wasn’t for the fact that you didn’t want to leave your child alone at school 30 minutes before anyone got there… now sure, child care… but it’s not free…
That isn’t all the trouble either, you could take sneaking into work every now and then, but it’s in the afternoon that it gets to be a worry too…. You get home an hour after little Jimmy does… so when he gets home the big kid next door walks him home off the bus every day, and Jimmy let’s himself in… the kid next door and his mom promising to keep an eye on him in case he runs into trouble, but in that hour he waits for you to come home, he spends it glued to a TV alone… it’s not something you’re crazy about…
Now let’s get back to the present situation…
The city of Toronto has a pretty good community centre based after school program system, as does the public libraries of Toronto… offering anything from homework help, to tutoring, to sports like swimming lessons, basketball, or open play programs. They also offer general interest programs, letting kids do something new every week like arts and crafts, to free play in community centre gyms…
These programs are offered at either little to no cost, depending on your location and your child’s age group.
As can be noted in an interview conducted by San Grewal of the Toronto Star for his "Parents Debate: Are City Recreation Fees Too Low?" article, 9 weeks of basic swimming lessons for kids could run you $59, some art classes are even free for 9 weeks, and other drop in programs, like basketball being free also or even drop in swimming costing as little as 86 cents a person for a family of six, as noted by Mark Richardson when speaking to San Grewal.
So, now you must be sitting there, brow all furrowed and confused, and you're thinking...
Angelica... where does this story turn sour…? Where's the bad part? I don't get it...
Everything I’ve told you up to now make Toronto’s programs sound great, so where’s the downside.
Well… let’s look into some facts.
There’s no doubt that after school programs are not only beneficial to a busy parent who wants to keep their children active, but there is also a lot of research that states that they’re mostly beneficial to the children themselves.
Studies show that children who are often placed in social situations where they can open up and be themselves, often do a lot better in academics, the constant stimulation allowing them to be open about the things they don’t understand and a lot more likely to ask for help.
Not only does social stimulation help with academics, it also helps keep them active, the activity helping improve their level of energy which in turn allows them to be more alert, motivated and willing to receive information.
This is especially true with prevention programs offered by various schools to either keep their kids off the streets, away from trouble like gangs and drugs, or helping them get back into the swing of school with credit catch up or tutoring.
However, given all the proof one can muster on why these programs are so beneficial, there are so many that face the fact that they need to shut down due to funding …
Programs like one that Laura DaSilva covered in her article "Program that helps at-risk youth could be forced to close days before Christmas", bring to light, programs like School Away from School, that help with credit catch up are one of the many who are facing the sad truth about being shut down due to the lack of funding
So, if these programs don’t get funded, the public ones in community centres should… right? After all they are public programs, made affordable for all and accessible to all…
The funding from the city’s budget should make it easy to come up with more programs and make more spaces available for various children around Toronto… right?
Make more programs available in more places so parents don’t have to travel long distances, or miss out on enrolling their children due to distances… right?
Toronto seriously falls behind in its program availability and selection, not to mention their serious problem with thinking that these programs should be cut more and more every year from the city’s budget.
Back in 2012 former Mayor Rob Ford proposed, and was able to pass the motion to cut $88 million in proposed service cuts. That included pools, recreation centres and community centre programs.
Not only was cutting funds going to limit and shut down certain programs, cutting off funds closed community centres in general… A community centre who only offers 2-3 classes will not get the same attraction as one who offers 9-10.
Usually the community centres in lower income areas often found the lack of course options, forcing these children to travel to other community centres to be able to enjoy whatever course it was they were initially interested in.
Safe to say, parents did not take the budget cuts well, having protested these kinds of cuts to the budget a year prior, in 2011 when parents of children who attended Earl Beatty Community Centre were told that their after-school programs were going to be shut down, in hopes of saving $2 million.
They peacefully protested outside Nathan Phillip’s Square as their children enjoyed a game of ball hockey around them, one of the various programs offered there, along side with camps, swimming and babysitting.
Luckily, they managed to maintain open and running after-school hours, even though the 2012 budget cut was a harder blow than the first.
When sitting down with a worker of the city, who asked me to keep her identity a secret, we touched upon her opinion on the program system and what she thinks the problem is.
“First thing that comes to mind is the angry parents last year”
She’s been a worker in one of North York’s community centres for a few years now, working first hand with the children in both after school programs that run the school year that is September to June, and in the summer months with day camp and other various programs.
“Yeah, there was that over booking problem the city had. Too many kids in certain centres and not enough in others... parent’s angry that they couldn’t get their kids into programs, most of them full after a few hours of when registration opened. That was nuts…”
“So I saw, why do you think there was such a surge?”
“The programs the city offers are great ones, a lot of people love the fact their kids can learn to swim for a more than reasonable price, if not free… If it’s not swimming then they did love the sport programs, bring their kids in after dinner and get them tired out so they got home to just fall asleep, other parents do it for the experience… Wanting to open their kids up to communication and break them out of their shells, which they almost always do.”
“So you definitely think after school programs are a must?”
“Oh definitely! I was a community centre program kid, if you want to put it that way, I learned how to swim, joined the girls club and made some friends who helped me be more sociable, I volunteered once I was 15 too, worked with the kids… I saw first hand the change we can make by just spending some time with them and letting them do what they enjoy”
“Do you think Toronto has any room for improvement?”
“ I think there always is… nothing is ever perfect… but if we were to sit down and look at what we can polish, I would more than definitely point out funding first… new equipment and more centres so more kids could part take, a lot of kids are turned away for living so far”
She is a large advocate for helping kids out, often helping in planning events in the community centre, whether it be a walk through haunted house for Halloween, where the kids walked through a mildly scary community centre and got candy at the end, to planning fun, end of the program games every age group could enjoy.
So, why is it that so many people look for these programs and go after them, yet the city still believes it’s one of the better choices when it comes to cutting down budgets and saving money?
Isn’t helping the future generation, a generation that will not only help us in the future, but take the acts of kindness and help we gave them and pass it on to future generations, so there will never again be a shy child? A child that lusted over another child who had the chance to partake in basketball classes, or ballet classes?
I am a strong advocate of believing that children deserve every right they can, and if that means, speaking up for them, when they don’t have the chance, or the power to, then I will gladly make sure that everyone knows, that the little things, like Rob Ford once said that are “nice to have”, are not thought of as small perks that are cute to see happen in the community, but also taken as a vital thing that benefits the well being of our children.
I am here today to share my opinion, enlighten those around me in hopes they too will come to understand the vitality of after school programs, and hopefully believe alongside with me, that they are one of the many things this city cannot afford to lose.
By setting aside just a little bit more money, and taking a little bit more care into the well being of our future, than I do not have a single doubt that Toronto, as a large and advanced city it already is, will only grow to flourish more than ever before.
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Márquez, Paloma Gil-Olarte, Raquel Palomera Martín, and Marc A. Brackett. "Relating emotional intelligence to social competence and academic achievement in high school students." Psicothema 18.Suplemento (2006): 118-123.
Scallan, Niamh. "Parents, kids protest Earl Beatty Community Centre cuts" The Star 9 December 2011: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/12/09/parents_kids_protest_earl_beatty_community_centre_cuts.html
Grewal, San. "Parents debate: Are city recreation fees too low?" The Star. 8 January 2012: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/01/08/parents_debate_are_city_recreation_fees_too_low.html
Gordon, Andrea. "Most adults, kids don't get enough exercise: studies" The Star. 20 January 2011: https://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2011/01/20/most_adults_kids_dont_get_enough_exercise_studies.html
DaSilva, Laura. "Program that helps at-risk youth could be forced to close days before Christmas" CBC News. 17 November 2016: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-school-program-jane-and-finch-closing-peach-1.3854401