By Angelica Blenich
Irene Heaven waited until the last possible day until she made a decision she really didn’t want to make.
The co-ordinator for the Haliburton-Muskoka-Kawartha Children’s Water Festival Heaven has been spearheading the event for a number of years without any disruption however this year was different.
The two-day festival that brings 1000 students to the Haliburton Highlands to learn about water ecology will not be running this year due to the ongoing work-to-rule in place by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.
Last week Heaven expressed her disappointment at having to defer the event which was scheduled to take place Sept. 28 and 29.
“It was basically last Wednesday [Sept. 16] that we made the final decision” said Heaven. “We were ready to go we had T-shirts for the volunteers … if there was a miracle which we were all hoping for then we were going to go ahead.”
Over the past few months the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario have escalated job action and imposed work-to-rule which prohibits them from taking in part in many activities during and outside of school hours. This includes field trips.
As a result registration for the HMK Water Festival dropped off over the summer months said Heaven.
“This would have been our 11th [water festival]” she said. “We have slipped through various work-to-rule [actions] in the past so we were kind of hoping that there would have been some crack we would have slipped through but there were no cracks.”
Calling the turn of events “disappointing” Heaven was looking forward to this year’s festival as there were 12 schools registered to attend.
“We’re very saddened” she said. “Even before the work-to-rule directive back in June came where they couldn’t organize for field trips we had 1000 kids registered. And that was before June. It reaches so many kids.”
Involved with the festival for the past eight years Heaven says the event fits well into the elementary school curriculum.
“We just got through a Trent project our curriculum connections all updated and new activity centres” she said.
Those activity centres will have to be put on hold and rolled out next year said Heaven.
An initiative of the Friends of Ecological and Environmental Learning (FEEL) the festival brings in students from Grades 3 to 6 from across the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. It is held at Kinark Outdoor Centre with the assistance of university students from Trent University.
Deferring the festival will have a ripple effect on the community as the schools Kinark Trent and more will be affected.
President of the Trillium Lakelands teacher local for ETFO Karen Bratina told the paper that including field trips in the work-to-rule action is part of the organization’s strategy to get the government and the Ontario Public School Board Association to return to the bargaining table.
“Striking field trips does not have a negative impact on student learning” she wrote in an email.
“An event such as the HMK water festival is an opportunity to extend the learning outside of the classroom but the absence of any field trip will not hamper a child’s education. Many teachers often find ways in which they can expand on classroom instruction by organizing field trips but the delivery of the curriculum occurs in the classroom.”
Other events such as the annual Terry Fox runs that occur in most elementary schools are also being affected with some schools participating if the event is run by volunteers or administration and other schools cancelling the event.
For the past few weeks there has been a standstill between ETFO and the government as talks have broken off.
Bratina said she wants the government and OPSBA to come back to the table to bargain fairly and equitably and that it is within the ETFO members’ rights to enter into a legal strike as part of collective bargaining.
“If sufficient progress has not occurred at the central bargaining table in October ETFO will commence rotating one-day strikes” she wrote.
“We will provide adequate notice to parents and the public should the one-day strikes proceed.”
A parent of two boys who are now too old to attend the festival Heaven knows firsthand how much students look forward to the outdoor event.
“I know the school board is 100 per cent behind this event” she said. “It’s outside it’s very active … it’s a beautiful way to teach kids because they’re learning about water and lake ecology and wetlands … they’re making those connections. I’m a true believer that when you’re dealing with stewardship you have to give it that personal touch.”
Heaven is not referring to the water festival as cancelled just deferred until Sept. 26 and 27 2016.
“We’re not giving up because it’s too important” she said.