Communities in Schools (CIS) ran for 15 years in schools on the southwest coast. The program had been funded through the Job Creation Partnership (JCP) program but the group that spearheads CIS received word in late August its application had been denied.
Sharon Park is executive director of the Community Education Network, the group which launched CIS 15 years ago. CEN also helps find funding and provides support for job centres, family resource centres, and youth centres on the west coast.
“To say we’re disappointed is a mild understatement,” said Mrs. Park.
She said the CIS program fulfilled two mandates one of providing work experience to EI eligible workers, and one of giving schools a volunteer coordinator who could carry out a wide range of tasks based on the needs of the school.
She said CIS workers in 17 schools helped with the RCMP’s D.A.R.E anti-drug program, co-ordinated breakfast programs, assisted teachers in the classroom, and led extracurricular activities, among other things
Some principals on the southwest coast said they only recently learned the news and were scrambling to fill the gap. Corey Penney of Burgeo Academy said the CIS worker had become an important part of the school community.
“They were involved in a lot of our programs, from the RESPECT program to student council to the snack program,” he said. “To me it’s very unfortunate that we lost the program.”
At Grandy’s River Collegiate, principal Justin Blackler said staff would be looking for volunteers to make sure the breakfast program continues to run in coming weeks.
“To put it simply the loss of program will mean a loss of programming for our students,” he said.
Mrs. Park said the funding denial came at short notice, and there was almost no communication from the provincial Department of Advanced Education and Skills in the months since they submitted applications.
“We would’ve hoped to have more communication with people who make the final decision because obviously we have been doing this for a long time,” she said. “So to just find out in an e-mail that we’re not successful now is rather discouraging.”
She said CEN was told in the rejection email that Communities in Schools wasn’t really suited to the JCP programs mandate, and that CIS wasn’t hiring enough people with barriers.
Mrs. Park said her organization had not been informed of any criteria changes when applying this year.
“If criteria is suddenly changing, one would hope program sponsors would be informed of that.”
Joan Burke, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, did not respond to a request for an interview before deadline.
Burgeo-La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons said the provincial government’s handling of the JCP funding, which comes from the federal government, is embarrassing.
“We witnessed tourist operators close early this season because their JCP was denied this year,” he said. “Now, we are seeing the school system impacted with a loss of this resource. It is time for Minister Burke to communicate clearly to the public what the future of the JCP program is.”