Robert Barron column: Sad to lose early-education program

Robert’s column

It’s a fact that many young kids on Vancouver Island, and elsewhere, don’t start kindergarten on the same educational footing as other students.

When I covered the education beat earlier in my reporting career, it was pointed out to me by school officials that some pre-kindergarten students are already reading and writing to some extent before they even begin their formal classroom educations.

There’s a number of reasons for this, depending on the situation, but the main one seems to be that some kids are fortunate to grow up in a rich educational environment provided by their families that allows them to begin learning in a meaningful academic way long before they are dropped off at a school’s doors for the first time.

These cases usually involve educated and financially stable parents that have the time and the background themselves to give their kids a step up in the educational process. But many other pre-schoolers aren’t so fortunate.

A lot of kids haven’t even seen a book or a computer before they first attend kindergarten, much less learn to read and write in even a rudimentary way.

That’s usually because their parents aren’t educated enough themselves to assist their kids learn the fundamentals, are working all day or are elsewhere and/or they haven’t the money to buy books or other educational aids for their children, or sufficient nutritious food for that matter.

It’s not the fault of these families, in many cases, as most do all they can for their kids but are limited due to circumstances beyond their control.

That’s why it’s so sad to see the demise of Cowichan Family Life’s popular Books ‘n’ Bubbles Bus program.

The Books ‘n’ Bubbles Bus grew out of a need to reach outlying and isolated communities to provide early learning and literacy support for young children up to six years old and their families.

The Strong Start BC Outreach program on the revamped 41-foot Bluebird school bus provided books and toys, games and puzzles, and crafts and supplies as the bus visited Penelakut First Nation, Malahat First Nation, Lake Cowichan, Crofton, and the Duncan Mall and the Cairnsmore areas of Duncan.

A skilled early childhood educator and a program-support person delivered the program to approximately 100 children and 75 parents or caregivers who visited the Books ‘n’ Bubbles Bus each week.

In fact, the bus carried all the books and resources needed to get kids interested in learning.

It was a great program that was well received by the children and adults in the areas it visited.

“The kids were always so excited to see the bus coming,” said Amy Kuma, the program’s bus driver and assistant during its eight-year existence.

“It was like a field trip that came to them. It was a great educational opportunity for young kids in out-of-the-way places.”

But it has been recently determined that the bus has serious and expensive mechanical issues and is no longer road worthy, so the Cowichan Family Life Association reluctantly decided to end the program.

A great educational resource in the Valley has been lost, unless some other organization looking to do good work grabs the bull by the horns and resurrects it.

I hope someone does.

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