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Donation saves orchestral strings program in Greater Victoria schools

Funds allow for specific program available across all 28 elementary schools
Willows Grade 5 students in the Greater Victoria School District strings program rally in spring 2021 against cuts to program funding for the next school year. The board of education accepted a donation to save the program for next year. (Ian Sharpe photo)

Orchestral strings are an option for schools in the Greater Victoria School District next year, despite being trimmed from the budget earlier this year.

Protests ahead of the funding cut and frenzied fundraising after they became official culminated in a $208,817-donation specifically for the orchestral strings program aimed at Grade 5 students in SD61, though some schools may opt-out as they have in the past.

During its May 30 meeting, the board of education accepted the one-time donation raised by Advocacy for Music in Schools (AMIS), a Victoria Confederation Parent Advisory Council sub-committee to maintain the program for potentially 1,500 Grade 5 students at 28 elementary schools.

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Equitability and its definition stood out around the zoom meeting, as trustees eventually determined to take the cash as presented, earmarked specifically for the strings program.

AMIS made the donation to offer the program to every elementary school that wants it next year followed by a program review, AMIS chair Karin Kwan explained.

“From there, there’s the possibility we can perhaps look at ways that we can provide the program in a different way or perhaps look at partnerships … there’s lots of opportunities there,” Kwan said.

“At this point, we’re offering all schools the chance to do elementary strings and also have that discussion on what’s working and what’s not.”

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Some trustees, including chair Ryan Painter sought to word the approval to allow funding for alternate music programs for schools that opt out of the strings program.

“The challenge that we continue to have with this program was that it was being inequitably provided in the district. Some schools were able to access funding to provide strings, other schools were not, they either were not wanting it or choosing to not have it,” Painter said.

He commended parents for the tremendous fundraising effort but sought to see it applied to all 28 schools either for maintenance and continuation of strings or some alternative program.

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Trustee Nicole Duncan suggested the key is each school is different, and given the funding is offered across the board allowing principals autonomy to work with staff and parent advisory councils to make decisions for their individual schools, Duncan said.

“There’s a choice involved. Some schools may not wish to have a strings program … What becomes an inequity is when there is a barrier to access, and what’s being proposed here is removing a barrier to access.”

The board approved the gift to potentially allow for programs in all 28 schools. The programs may not be exactly as in previous years, as variables include more or fewer schools opting in.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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