Burnaby urged to add private schools to city bursaries

A letter from an independent school association asking for local private schools to be included in the City of Burnaby’s new bursary program got short shrift at a committee meeting Wednesday.

The bursary program, approved last month, will see the city give out a $1,000 bursary every year to one promising grad from each of Burnaby’s eight public high schools, with preference given to students with financial need who can demonstrate outstanding community involvement and volunteerism.

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Officials from two local independent schools told the NOW they were disappointed at being left out, since some students at their schools also have financial need.

But including local private school students or homeschoolers was never discussed or considered before the bursary program was approved, according to Coun. James Wang, who originally proposed it.

The Federation of Independent School Associations, an umbrella organization representing nearly 300 B.C. independent schools, including 10 in Burnaby, wrote a letter to mayor and council last month urging them to make the program more inclusive.

“Independent schools have a long history in Burnaby and continue to provide commendable school experiences to countless citizens of Burnaby,” wrote executive director Shawn Chisholm. “I encourage the City of Burnaby to follow the lead of the provincial government and make this generous bursary offering available to all students attending a Burnaby high school – public or independent.”

The letter was referred to the executive committee of council, where it was “received as information” with no action taken.

“We recognize that most who are obviously able to pay some kind of fee probably are also able to maybe support some kind of students in future endeavours,” chair Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said.

But staff looking into the feasibility of the bursary program was not directed to see if that assumption was accurate.

The two private schools that spoke to the NOW said some of their students are supported through high school with grants, and their families don’t have money for post-secondary education.

“We would never turn a kid away for lack of ability to pay the fees,” said Ilona Davidson, the principal and program manager at Whytecliff Agile Learning Centre, an alternative independent school for students with diverse learning, personal or life challenges.

Mayor Mike Hurley said it might have been an oversight not to look at the financial need of students at local independent schools.

“I think that we do need to touch base with those schools, and that’s something I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll reach out and look at that side of their programming. Are they inclusive of people who can’t afford really to be there? I need to find that out.”

Coun. Pietro Calendino, meanwhile, said the bursaries were public money and should go to public schools.

When asked why the city hadn’t looked into the financial need of students at independent schools, he said, “We just made that decision, period…I’m a supporter of the public school system, not of the independent or homeschooled children.”

Nevertheless, he said parents of those students could “come and make their case” to the committee. Dhaliwal said the committee will re-evaluate the bursary “after a number of years.”

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