Tight times for schools
Teachers and students grapple with crammed classrooms

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 16/98) - More students, crowded rooms and fewer teachers make for tough times in many schools across the Northwest Territories.

Last March, Pangnirtug's Attagoyuk high school burned to the ground, forcing students into portable classrooms, houses and Alookie elementary school, where students fill every nook and cranny, including the library and kitchen.

Budget cuts have also meant the loss of four teachers at the school and an increase in the student-teacher ratio.

During the early 1990s, there were approximately 20 teachers at Attagoyuk school. Today, there are 15. The average student-teacher ratio across the territories is 18.2 to 1.

"There's a general trend of restlessness and violence in the classroom," said Attagoyuk's principal Seamus Quigg. "There's been an increase in the number of incidents."

The cuts have also reduced the number of classroom assistants for special-needs students, forcing the school to transfer them into mainstream classes, where teachers end up spending much of their time with the special-needs students at the expense of regular students.

Judging from Finance Minister John Todd's new territorial budget, Quigg is expecting an end to the cuts and perhaps a slight increase in his operating budget.

It's like the school's been beaten over the head for the last three years, he said, but the good news is the beating is going to stop.

Pelly Bay lobbies for help

Pelly Bay's Kugaardjuq school is feeling the same pressures.

"We have a serious overcrowding problem," said principal David McDougall.

"We've written letters to kind of everybody and their brother -- Education, Culture and Employment, our school board, and our representative, John Ningark," McDougall said. "We're at a dead end of where to go."

Even though a renovation is on tap -- two classrooms and a library are being built -- there's still not enough room for Pelly's 200 students, said McDougall.

"Arctic College has to use our council chambers in the hamlet because we have to use their portable to conduct a class of 26 kids. We have no gymnasium attached to the school, no type of arts room, no cafeteria or common room for students. We've had to shut down our shop to use it as a regular classroom.

"Students can't access home economics, the home economics/family studies room, because they've had to use it as a library," he said.

Then there's the math and Inuktitut teachers, who teach in the hallway. Special needs students are taught in a corner and teachers have no offices.

While the renovations should be finished this August, McDougall said they won't alleviate the problems.

Every year, for the next five years, he anticipates around 20 new students, in addition to another 15 drop-outs who want to return to their studies.

"We've got a great school here. We have very little discipline problems, we've got an excellent staff and the community supports the school 100 per cent. But I think what they're going to run into is kids on top of kids leading to discipline problems that we hear of in some of the schools," he said.

Poor attendance relieves crowded space

In Paulutuk, students and teachers are just getting over the problems of crowded classrooms.

"We had an addition of four rooms put on this year, and it's just adequate," said assistant principal Verla Boyle.

"We're crowded because we don't have any storage space and we're also having Grade 11 next year and we really won't have an extra room, either. For that reason we are crowded, but not badly crowded. We were badly crowded the year before," Boyle added.

Angik school has about 100 students with seven teachers.

Boyle said the school is not lobbying for space and funding, partly because of poor student attendance records.

"That rather counteracts any overcrowding that we feel. We're not really overcrowded but if everybody was here it would be," said Boyle.