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UPDATE: Save New Westminster's May Day event from a slow death: parent
Absenteeism from school has the May Day committee contemplating eliminating Grade 6 and 7 students from participating in the New Westminster tradition that is more than 140 years old.
District parent advisory council chair Wendy Harris is upset the district is considering excluding the older children at the Queen’s Park Stadium ceremony. She said the committee, of which she is a member as the DPAC representative, should be looking at making May Day more relevant to the children who skip out.
“Apparently 200 (Grade 6 and 7) kids from Glenbrook didn’t come to school,” said Harris, who also revealed those not attending from Lord Tweedsmuir was 46 per cent last year.
When Harris, 52, grew up in New Westminster she looked forward to the excitement of May Day, even skipping high school classes to attend the ceremony she loved as a kid. In those days there was lots of anticipation, with the May Queen draw broadcast by CKNW and over every school’s public address system.
“It was the only opportunity where you see all the kids in the district together, and each section would cheer for their rep. As a child, you’re anticipating through the early years, can’t wait until Grade 5 or 6 and try out. It was pretty special,” said Harris.
She said there are several reasons students are playing hooky—one being boredom. It’s the same every year, the sound system is poor, and most people are seated far from the action. Bad weather has also plagued May Day, often prompting the cancellation of the school relay races. Harris said contingencies for an alternate day or an inside location could be made so students don’t get wet. She said because many children must walk from their school to Queen’s Park, some schools are telling their students to eat their lunch at 10 a.m. before they leave and are then hungry at 1 p.m.
With all this, it’s no wonder they decide not to come, Harris said.
“Fix the problems, engage the kids. Fix the problems and then see. Cutting out a big huge block of kids is no way to fix the problem,” she said, pointing out that kindergarten and Grade 1s were excluded about a decade ago. “It would spell the end of May Day. The kids’ perspective is being overlooked here. They have to be having some fun, they have to be getting something from this more than being trotted over.”
One suggestion she makes to enhance May Day is, rather than requiring the girls to be in dresses and the boys in dress pants, to have them wear the cultural dress of their heritage, or even a T-shirt with a flag of their country of origin.
She said she realizes money would be saved by not having to provide transportation for the two grades.
“It can save a lot of money if there’s no May Day period. Instead of a slow and painful death, sucking the life out of May Day by all the decisions being made, it’s time the community see this beloved tradition, a lot of people love it and lot of people haven’t seen it,” said Harris. “There’s a lot of traditions that do change and do stop. Just because it’s been going on for 141 years it doesn’t mean it’s going to for the next 10.”
May Day committee co-chair and superintendent of schools John Woudzia said principals will discuss with their school PACs to get their parents’ perspective. He said even if the committee decides not to have the older students participate provision will be made for those wishing to attend.
“There’s been a significant spike in absenteeism in May Day in the last few years among the higher grades,” said Woudzia. “May Day is not intended to be a non-instruction day, it is intended to be an instructional day like the other 185 in the school year.”