Sunnyside Elementary Music Program is being “developed”

I don’t have a better analogy at the moment for what’s happening to the music program at Sunnyside Elementary than the high-intensity development we see in Grandview Heights. As development clears the forests to make way for townhouses, the air heats up and gets more polluted, and hectares of road runoff infect our fish-bearing streams. At the same time, the music program at Sunnyside Elementary faces greater and greater threats until at last, it gets reduced to a fraction of its former size.

Yesterday, Sunnyside’s concert band and jazz bands, plus some of the upper-level music classes, went on their last performance tour. Yearly they have gone to other schools to showcase what they’ve learned. Dozens of parents transport children and instruments to different schools, and yesterday we were treated to a wide variety of music performed by well-taught elementary students. This has been a yearly tradition at Sunnyside, supported by teachers and administration alike.

Putting together a program like this takes an astonishing amount of preparation and organization, and requires support from the entire school. Teachers of students in the music program have to accommodate long hours of music practice and missed hours, made up for with homework and altered schedules. Administrators undoubtedly have challenges of their own with such a complex program. Last year, Sunnyside Elementary put on a huge musical play/performance that included every student in the school! It required quite a bit of support and time to pull it off.

As the numbers of students at Sunnyside increased, resources available to students decreased. The last two years have seen 5 portables moved on site to support hundreds of new students. When the band teacher told her students she wouldn’t be teaching band next year, I got worried.

I talked to the principal, who confirmed that the music and band programs would have to change drastically to accommodate the numbers of students we have. Worried, I got online and made a Facebook page for the other parents at Sunnyside who support music. This turned out to be crucial, as some Semiahmoo Secondary parents got on there and told me that if I wanted anything done, I had to go to the district.

So to the district I went, and I also started coordinating with the amazing parents at Semiahmoo Secondary. We had letter-writing campaigns, took recordings, and went to meetings (other parents did, since I couldn’t go).

And now the last performance of the jazz band is tonight. Yes, there will be a band next year (standard hours). Yes, there will be music next year (on carts, rolled out to the portables and classrooms). Most people probably won’t even notice the difference.

Just like we forget all too quickly how much forest used to be here.

South Surrey stands to lose what it loves during urbanization

The last performance of Sunnyside Elementary School’s award-winning jazz and concert band program is next Thursday, June 22, 6pm at the school. There’s no more room at the school for drums, pianos, marimbas, and musical instruments you can’t put in your pocket. South Surrey is running out of room all over.

 

A corner lot by Sunnyside Elementary was finally bulldozed. In a day or two it was transformed from the left picture to the right picture. The lot will become three new big houses with tiny yards. The tree there, a big maple, I think, was well-loved for 50 years, at a guess. It had a tire swing and lovely climbing branches. I’m sure children sat there on summer days, but the inevitable forces of economics were unable to save it for future children.

IMG_0293

 

It’s ironic that at the same time this lot was being bulldozed, the Sunnyside Elementary school’s music program was undergoing the same transformation. img_2147.jpg

For over 20 years, students passionate about music could find a mentor at Sunnyside Elementary. Next year, unless we get even more parent advocacy, this practice room will become a classroom, and their music teacher will be teaching at 7-9 other schools, normalized by the pressures of urbanization.

DSC_0018

It’s hard to take pictures of a band program facing the bulldozers. How do I take a picture of something that’s not there? How do I document the absence of a school at the Kiwanis music festival for the first time in over a decade? How do I show what will be lost without demeaning the efforts of future band programs? The Surrey school district will ensure that Sunnyside grade 7 students can take band if they want, two days a week (100 minutes, if I remember right). That’s a far cry from the grade 5 through grade 8 students you usually find in the music room before school, during lunch and recess, during the first hour of classes, and after school.

Once the houses are built on that corner lot, more people will move in and they’ll be happy they could find a place to live. They won’t know about the tree swing, or the climbing branches that used to be there. But hopefully their children will have the choice to attend an award-winning band, practicing music with other students and a passionate teacher!

If you happen to be someone who appreciates music and the efforts of students and teachers who have supported Sunnyside’s program in the past, please write the administration (emails below)! We need to preserve this unique music program from demolishment, not just this year, but for decades to come.

wilson_shawn@surreyschools.ca, larsen_laurie@surreyschools.ca, allen_terry@surreyschools.ca, holmes_bob@surreyschools.ca, mcnally_laurae@surreyschools.ca, thind_garry@surreyschools.ca, tymoschuk_gary@surreyschools.ca, reeve_l@surreyschools.ca, rawji_f@surreyschools.ca, tinney_j@surreyschools.ca, ryan_r@surreyschools.ca, reeve_l@surreyschools.ca.

Ongoing Advocacy for Sunnyside’s Award-Winning Band Program

Last night there was a school board meeting, and the Sunnyside Elementary band played for the board of trustees, superintendents, and attendees. It was an opportunity to remind everyone what we stand to lose next year. Interestingly, the most vocal supporters of the band are Semiahmoo Secondary parents and students, who have a longer view of the benefits they’ve seen from having succeeded in the intensive Sunnyside band program. At least one student stood and spoke eloquently about the benefits of music education, and several parents stayed late to speak and ask questions.

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear different stories about the status of the well-known award-winning concert and jazz band programs at Sunnyside Elementary in Surrey, BC.  Some people say it’s gone, others say it’s just fine. The school newsletter states that band will continue. But band students are sad that they’re losing their teacher. So what’s happening? Despite the enormous amount of advocacy shown by Sunnyside parents and ex-parents, there’s still a lack of understanding about what Sunnyside is to lose.

While the newsletter statement is technically correct, it makes it sound as if the band can magically play beautiful music with only a small fraction of the rehearsal time the students currently have. Sunnyside is a public school, and the only reason it can support the efforts of budding musicians is because for decades, Sunnyside Elementary has thrown all its support behind the scores of hours of practice every week required. If our band director doesn’t have a home base, how can the trumpets, clarinets, saxophones, trombones, flutes, drummers, and percussionists all get sectional rehearsals in addition to full band practices? Band requirements in Surrey are 2 days each week, for grade 7 students. Even this small amount of band practice was almost cut a few years ago. If Sunnyside is brought to “normal” levels of band practice, it will be unrecognizable.

I think there are two reasons the Secondary students and parents are our best advocates. First, the Semiahmoo Secondary parents and students have seen the benefits of Sunnyside’s music program first-hand. The students are mature and communicate well, having grown up in an excellent education system. They know how much their experience in the elementary years of the Sunnyside concert and jazz band program have helped them in their transition to high school. They also have relied more and more on music to help them as they struggle through teenage years, to deal with the stress that comes with difficult exams and college entrance applications. Many elementary parents and students haven’t seen those benefits of music first-hand yet.

Second, the parents in the Secondary schools have been in the school system a lot longer, and they’ve seen how to get things done. They know that one of the ways to advocate for their children is to actively bring important issues to the attention of numerous people such as the Ministry, MLAs, City Councillors, School Trustees, Superintendents and Principals. I am impressed at the dedication and perseverance of these parents. They gather information, speak with the key players, and they’re great at spreading the word. They help other parents who aren’t as confident writing or speaking find ways to show their support.

One of my friends said that there was a large group of special needs parents at the school board meeting last night, and they were very organized with their questions, and they know what is needed. They are a great example of how to help the school system be successful with a broad array of children. We all have children who need our advocacy, and who will benefit from an education system that challenges and supports them. If you haven’t written in yet, and you want to, don’t be shy, let them know!

(Thank you to Delanne Young for comments and suggestions on this post!)

Sunnyside Elementary’s growing pains

May 25, 2017 update: We still haven’t found a way to keep the band program. As it stands, there will, of course, be a band program, for Grade 7, twice a week, 50min each. And there will be a music teacher who visits all the K-4 (K-3 Montessori) classrooms. But no-one I’ve heard from is able to tell me how to keep the music we’ve seen for the past decade at Sunnyside. The current band program spends at least 14hrs per week on sectionals for trumpets, saxophones, flutes, drums, clarinets, etc…plus jazz band practices and concert band practices. Early morning, after school, lunch times…it would be such a shame to lose this one-of-a-kind program.

Thank you to all the parents who’ve written the school district! Keep writing, and if you haven’t written, take a minute or two to write in! I still have hope that someone will find a solution. Here’s the contact info you’ll want: https://www.surreyschools.ca/departments/SECT/Trustees/contacttheboard/Pages/default.aspx

Original post: As Sunnyside Elementary in Surrey, BC braces for next year’s influx of students, growing pains are being strongly felt by its award-winning music program. For years, Sunnyside Elementary has won top honours for its stunning band program.

IMG_2061.JPG

This elementary band program competes with secondary school bands, because it is too advanced for most elementary schools. Secondary students regularly come to Sunnyside to play with the Jazz Band.

DSC_0025goodyblur.JPG

But next year, the state-of-the-art, specially-designed band room in the newly built school might be converted to classroom space.

The province needs to supply enough portables like this one

IMG_7882

so that the band room can remain where it is. With high demand for portables from schools throughout BC, we don’t know if that will happen. The school might try to put the band program in a portable: a band program this size doesn’t fit.

The current music room has enough xylophones for an entire classroom, stored in a special room at the back during band practice and brought out again for class practice.

IMG_2032.JPGIMG_2034.JPGIMG_2063.JPG

It may be that the band program will have to shift to some other school that’s not seeing so much pressure from urbanization. Many students come to Sunnyside knowing the band program is stellar. It’s sad that a school with hundreds more students receives fewer and fewer resources than it did before.

The new Sunnyside Elementary was built for about 420 students in 2014, with beautiful architecture, a large music room, a spacious gymnasium, and large playing fields.

That year, the area around the school was still forested. Surrey and the Province knew that the entire area was slated to be urbanized, with hundreds of townhouses being planned all around the school. They could have built a school for projected numbers, but that’s against policy.

North and West Sunnyside Boundary June 2014
The new Sunnyside Elementary when it was built in 2014
IMG_0854
The forest around Sunnyside has been replaced by hundreds of townhouses

The school now houses over 600 students, with five portables on site.

IMG_1556.JPG

The portables have no air conditioning, no running water, and no washrooms. There is one playground the school PAC has been able to fund so far. The school runs on a split bell schedule so that half the school is at recess at a time. New teachers struggle to furnish their classrooms, and observant parents donate badly-needed shelving and extra funds to support basic materials for their children.

The school was built to be expanded; the contractors knew it would be required to house many more students. But expanding the building doesn’t seem to be on the Province’s priority list.

Sunnyside Elementary is an example of the problems faced throughout Surrey. Development is outpacing infrastructure, and new residents rarely know the challenges they will face after they buy their new home. Sunnyside Elementary was built beautifully for 400 students; it may well be forced to house over 700. What will happen to programs like the award-winning jazz band? Instead of benefitting from added resources that could be available in an urban setting, the school will suffer from lack of space and funding, even as new residents flood to hundreds of newly-built homes.

More before/after pictures of development in Grandview Heights

 

Huge developments slashing trees on 168th St and 16th Ave

A few times a week we have to drive by this development. They’ve finished clearcutting the trees; now they’re chipping them into enormous piles of…chippings. I haven’t been able to get pictures, but it’s painful. And it’s happening all over, as urbanization expands eastward along 24th Ave and southward. Thousands of trees get cut down, and in the new developments, there’s little room for new trees to grow. (By the way, where will the children go to school? All the schools are overcrowded. The streets? 16th is sometimes a lineup of cars all the way from Hwy 15 to King George. Amazing.)

I have over 2000 planning documents to input into spreadsheets. I have no time to do it. If you want to volunteer entering data, put in a comment and I’ll be happy to contact you!

Considering the patterns I’ve found lately of developments being allowed to consider only building coverage, not total lot coverage, we can expect these developments to have very little space for new trees to grow. Remember, this is a temperate rainforest. All the increased runoff, with little or no land to absorb it, will be very hard on salmon-bearing streams.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-6-21-09-am

Application #15-0084-00: OCP amendment from “Suburban” to “Urban”; Partial NCP Amendment from “Suburban Residential (1-2 ups)”, “Suburban Transitional (2-4 upa)”, and “Urban Transitional (up to 8 upa)” to “Low Density Residential (6-10 upa)” as well as to accommodate a modified road pattern and relocation of drainage swales; Rezoning from RA to RF-12; Development Variance Permit to allow subdivision into 104 single family lots and one remainder portion.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-6-22-03-am

Application #16-0191-00: To permit the development of 25 residential lots.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-6-17-12-am

Application #14-0282-00: OCP amendment from suburban to commercial; LAP amendment from commercial/business park and habitat preservation area to commercial; rezoning from RA to C-8; subdivision from 9 to 4 lots; development permit for a 22.791 sqm retail and office centre; development variance permit to vary front, rear and sideboard setbacks.

Surrey planning documents online are often incomplete

I’m finally going back to putting information from over 3500 planning reports into an excel worksheet. I’d done this for tree numbers before, but I didn’t include site coverage, owner and developer names, arborist names, zoning changes or addresses.

I’ve spent the last two days combing through a subset of 27 reports from 2014, filling in as much data as I could. The most frustrating thing is figuring out the site coverage — how much of the lot is covered in buildings and pavement. Many developers fill in the blanks on the city-requested information, but others blatantly leave crucial information blank.

Site coverage is an important number; keeping coverage under 60%, a common maximum allowed by the city, allows drainage and keeps road runoff from polluting rivers, in addition to moderating temperatures during heat waves, and leaving room for trees to grow.

For the 10 developers who didn’t provide total site coverage estimates, I simply looked at their landscape design and used photoshop to count how many pixels were buildings or pavement, and how many were landscape.

The developers that didn’t report total site coverage had a reason: they reported an average of 33%, which was usually only the building area. When I added in pavement, I come up with an average of 72% total site coverage.

For example, this townhouse development in Cloverdale reported 40% coverage. From looking at their landscape plan, it’s obvious that it’s more than that. When I count pixels in photoshop, buildings and pavement take up 92% of the site. Their planning report says the limit is 45%. I guess they decided that zoning requirements are really flexible…when the zoning laws say maximum of 45%, it could mean just buildings if you want it to.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 6.30.55 PM
Landscape plan from report 7913-0162-00

Six of these were townhouse developments; the rest were commercial. It makes sense that they wouldn’t want to draw attention to how much impermeable surfaces they were laying down.

But why would the city allow this sort of thing through so often? I don’t understand it.

—– a few hours later—–

What about this one? Report number 7913-0169-00 at 18699 24 Ave. An industrial building reporting 48.6% site coverage, in a zoning area with a maximum allowable site coverage of 60%. I double-checked, since it sounded too good to be true. Of course it wasn’t true. From this picture, I estimate 80% site coverage, even taking into account the apparently planted roof on the northeast of the building. Approved in July 2014.

7913-0169-00 coverage

People need forests too