by Cheryl Jackson Monday June 7, 2010

I'm thinking a lot about what happens to kids when they're finished with our public school system, because as of the end of June, two of mine will be done. Have they been well-prepared, from JK to Grade 12? Have they been given all the opportunities they'll need to do what they want to do?

My kids have grown up in a big urban centre. They've had lots of opportunities in school and out - course options, clubs, field trips, music, drama, sports. If they wanted it, it was there. This isn't necessarily the case in smaller rural communities. I found this out when we travelled to Timmins to tape a couple of shows there.

We taped one of the programmes at the high school, with an audience. While I was getting my make up done before the show, some students came to watch and chat. It was a fascinating conversation.

They were totally honest (I love that about young people). Some of them are graduating this month, and are leaving. The others are leaving as soon as they finish. As much as they love Timmins, they don't see a future for themselves there.  Mines are closing, the forestry industry is flagging, and their families are suffering. They don't want that. But when I asked them if they felt prepared to move on, they weren't sure. They said living in a small, somewhat isolated community meant that they couldn't go to many art shows, dance performances, plays, museums. Field trips were limited. One of the girls said she recently travelled three hours by car just to see a movie because it wasn't coming to her town. 

What I loved about these kids was how aware they were of their limitations and how excited and willing they were to go out and make their own opportunities. They're going to be just fine. But don't think for a minute that all kids get the same fair shake in this province. It doesn't happen. I'd call this an 'opportunity gap' and you can hear more about it on our panel discussion "Portrait of the North - Timmins Schools."