Territory may be shirking phys ed commitments

The Yukon government may fall short of its commitments under a number of recent intergovernmental agreements if it doesn't build a temporary gym for the F.H. Collins School, says Caroline Sparks.

The Yukon government may fall short of its commitments under a number of recent intergovernmental agreements if it doesn’t build a temporary gym for the F.H. Collins School, says Caroline Sparks.

Her son, Tristan, is in Grade 10 at F.H. Collins, and Sparks is one of a group of parents concerned about the school being without a gym until construction of a new building is finished more than two years from now.

Her biggest concern isn’t with the potential loss of phys-ed time, but with the lack of after-school programming, something she said affects more than just students.

“The after-school time period is when kids get pregnant, when criminal activity is most likely to occur. I don’t think the Department of Education recognizes that, and I don’t understand why other departments haven’t picked up on it,” said Sparks.

Sparks pointed to a number of reports and governmental agreements that she said oblige the government to provide an on-site gym space.

In June, federal, provincial and territorial governments – including the Yukon – endorsed the Canadian Sport Policy 2012. It includes a framework that seeks ways to reduce sedentary behaviour and high-risk activities in the after-school hours.

According to a 2011 report on the Pan Canadian Active After School Framework, the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are the most important hours to increase physical activity.

The Pan Canadian framework looked at pilot projects to increase physical activity and wellness in communities across the country.

It found that after-school screen time on technology devices spikes, and girls and aboriginal students are even less likely to be active. The framework proposes to develop stronger links between schools and municipalities, with a focus on using school facilities as a hub for community recreation.

“Students need 60 minutes a day – they won’t get that in the photo lab or the cafeteria. There are quite significant portions of parents who report that the only physical activity their children have is at school,” said Sparks.

Education Minister Scott Kent has committed to looking at “fiscally responsible” options for a temporary gym at the current F.H. Collins site.

The current plan calls for students to be bused to a number of other facilities around town, including the Canada Games Centre, Yukon College, Mount McIntyre and other schools. The budget for busing students to other facilities is $180,000.

Education spokesman Chris Madden said that if a financially viable option for a temporary gym can be found, the $180,000 would be put towards that instead.

On Tuesday in the legislature, Kent said that the Department of Education will be hiring an additional communications staff member to help with the F.H. Collins project.

“As far as the communications go … Department of Education will be contracting an individual to handle the communications exclusively for this project throughout the construction phase,” said Kent.

Madden clarified on Thursday that the new communications position is only a proposal right now, and that hiring any new staff member would be a human resources decision. Because it’s only a proposal, Madden couldn’t supply a budget for any new position but did say the cost of a new salary would not come out of the budget for the new school.

“It’s just an idea right now. It’s something that we recognize where we need to increase our capacity so stakeholders can get all the information they need,” said Madden.

“Our communications unit is already operating at capacity, and we realize that with F.H. coming down the pipe we’ll have an active construction site wrapped around a school. So we need to make sure that parents and students and all of our stakeholders get all the safety and other information they need quickly,” he said.

“I feel like, as a parent, this was talked about when my son was in Grade 5. Now he’s in Grade 10,” said Sparks.

“I trusted in the process. I think part of the mess-up in communication is the delays and the lags, and somewhere the process has broken down. There’s something missing here, some disconnect. Whether or not an additional staff person would solve that, I don’t know,” said Sparks.

A petition being circulated by students asking the government to build a temporary gym had reached 415 signatures by press time on Friday. Sparks said the students are hoping to reach 1,000 signatures by Wednesday.

The petition can be found online at www.fhgympetition.com.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com