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Toronto Rural Ontario students missing out on enrichment programs: report

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Ontario pupils are missing out on school-enrichment programs based on where they live, according to a new report by a parent-advocacy group.

Pupils living in small towns or rural areas of the province are less likely to have access to physical education teachers, music teachers and teacher-librarians, compared with those in big cities and suburbs, says a report being released on Thursday by People for Education.

The disparity in access to programs and specialists in the arts, physical education and libraries is so pronounced that it means children are not receiving an equal chance for success – one of the key goals of public education.

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"It's pretty stark," Annie Kidder, the group's executive director, said. "As a province, it is vital that we do more to figure this out."

The report found that about 60 per cent of urban elementary schools have a health and physical education teacher, compared with 30 per cent of small-town schools. Further, 33 per cent of city schools had a full-time music teacher. Only 11 per cent of rural schools had a teacher who specializes in music.

In urban communities, 60 per cent of the elementary schools surveyed said they had a teacher-librarian, and only 44 per cent of those in small towns said they had one.

The report was based on survey responses from 1,154 schools with a total of nearly 500,000 students. Each of the province's 72 public school boards was represented.

Ms. Kidder said the provincial government should make resources available so that schools boards are able to distribute these types of specialists equally in schools.

"There's an opportunity now for this particular government," she said. "Should students' education be affected to this extent just by geography?"

Education Minister Liz Sandals said the government continues to invest in rural boards despite declining enrolment.

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"We are committed to continuing to work with boards across Ontario to ensure that all our students continue to achieve excellence," she said in a statement.

Anita Simpson, superintendent of program and innovation at the Simcoe County District School Board, which has a range of urban and rural schools, said staffing is usually driven by collective agreements rather than geography. She said the board negotiated with teacher unions that a teacher-librarian would be present in every school.

But Ms. Simpson said the board is mindful that in smaller schools there could be fewer resources, and it tries to fill in the holes. In one small school, for example, there was going to be a class with Grades 6, 7 and 8 pupils, she said. The board sent an additional teacher to the school so that only two grades, not three, needed to be combined.

"We do recognize and appreciate that those differences exist and we're very careful to make sure that schools get what they need … from time to time," Ms. Simpson said.

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