It’s easy to get used to living in this neighbourhood. For one, other than the occasional used needle lying on the side of the road and the rare fight on the other side of the park, it’s a safe place to live (for another post, the streets are almost definitely safer from violence than the suburbs). Also, because of the cost of housing in the private sector, several of our neighbours live comfortable—even wealthy—lives. None of this changes the fact that poverty is a major problem for many, if not most people in the area.
In the lobby of the community centre, which is in the same building as the library, my son’s preschool, and my daughter’s kindergarten, they have posted many of the demographic statistics of the neighbourhood. The results actually shocked me. I had to look at it several times to see if I had read it correctly. In short, the median household income for the neighbourhood is under $14,000 per year as compared to $47,000 in the city as a whole. What makes the statistic particularly shocking is that it’s over $12,000, since welfare and disability payments are under $1000 per month. This means that the median household almost definitely has more than one person living in it and that second person is likely a child. (I was speaking about this with a woman who works for the park, and she suggested that the actual household income is likely lower since the statistics probably don’t count the 600+ homeless in the area or those who haven’t gotten on income assistance yet.)
My wife and I seem constantly concerned about money, or about our tiny house set to get tinier in three months (baby), or about the size of our student loans that don’t seem to be getting any smaller. But statistically, we are comfortable, even for Vancouver. But compared to most of our neighbours, we live in a different world.
Or at least a different country. What complicates everything for us is that my daughter is in French immersion kindergarten. To be sure, French immersion is part of the public school system and is open to any of the kids in the neighbourhood (if they can be lucky enough to win the lottery, like us). But it’s clear that the vast majority of the families that seem to take advantage of the program are those in the middle class. My daughter’s 19 classmates include the children of
academics, lawyers, architects, physiotherapists, engineers, pastors, and successful artists. Of the parents I don’t know, I expect them to have similar jobs.
This phenomenon—where the kids in French immersion tend to come from well-educated homes—is well-known throughout the city, prompting many people to call French immersion a private school within the public school system. I was musing over this, almost apologetically, to one parent of a French school kid and she said, “isn’t that a good thing?”
Well, I guess it’s a good thing in some ways. My daughter is receiving a challenging and valuable education in an environment that is conducive for conventional education. Apparently, the conditions of the classroom becomes most evident to outsiders at the school’s Christmas concert. I have heard that one can tell which group of kids is in the French stream based on their behaviour on stage. That my daughter’s class is calmer than other classes calms down my own anxiety about her time in school. On the other hand, I might worry that she could be missing an opportunity for a different type of education.
Things being as they are, I feel fortunate for the state of things. I have heard that some teachers in the English program are worried about the lack of resources to deal with the kids who may have undiagnosed psychological problems due to stress in their lives outside of school—malnourishment, bedbugs, parents with substance abuse problems, overcrowded rooms, etc. As much as I value my daughter learning empathy for the less fortunate, perhaps it’s enough for her to encounter the less fortunate kids at recess and in the park. I wish her own class were more diverse, but no one can force the other parents to enroll their kids in an optional program.