It’s been the subject of many news articles and delegations to the New Westminster School Board over the last several years. Now Royal City residents are going to get a chance to weigh in and let our elected officials what they think should be done with our historic May Day celebrations.
If you haven’t already done so, please fill out the online survey as you only have until November 27th to do so!
To provide some background, I’m sharing a news item published by the New Westminster Record which helps to summarize the issue facing the School Board.
“The community has always responded positively to the school district maintaining the tradition of May Day.” – former School Board Trustee Brent Atkinson
Will May Day survive until its 150th anniversary in 2020? And if it survives, who will organize it and how will it look?
On Tuesday, the New Westminster board of education approved a motion to get public input on a report from its May Day task force. The board also asked staff to determine if any community organizations are interested in assuming the responsibility for the May Day ceremony in Queen’s Park and/or the selection of the Royal Suite. The task force, established in 2015 to review the nature and scope of the school district’s participation in the annual May Day celebration, submitted three recommendations to the board of education:
* For 2018 and 2019 May Day, celebrations be school-based celebrations and the school district support the 150th anniversary of May Day in 2020.
* The district should discontinue the practice of selecting a Royal Suite. The board should support transferring responsibility for the Royal Suite to a community organization.
* The board should endeavour to transfer responsibility for organizing the May Day celebration in Queen’s Park outside of school hours to a community organization that could then decide how best to continue the tradition. In this way, for example, those community members who are particularly keen to keep alive the institutions of the May Queen and Royal Suite could formulate their own selection methods, costume requirements and ceremonial duties.
“The concept of having a May Queen may have meant something in ancient times, but it means something different now. The idea of re-enacting things that are old and ancient is something that is a form of storytelling” – David Brett, President of the Hyack Festival Association
“There are considerable hurdles to be faced if the collective celebration of May Day with the dancing ceremony in Queen’s Park is to continue as a district-organized event,” said the report. “There seems to be little pedagogical or staff support for the amount of time taken out of the teaching schedule to make this event happen. The justification for taking the Grade 2 and 5 classes out school that day seems to be merely to act as an audience. There is little engagement amongst student spectators with the ceremonies themselves. Apart from those parents who attend to watch their children dance around the poles, there seems to be little other public engagement with the event itself, even though it has historically been linked to the local community spring festival.”
“Going through it with my daughters was very eye-opening, what it means to them. They don’t question it like we are all looking at it. To them, it’s just a big part of their school experience, a big part of being in New Westminster.” – Jonina Campbell, School Trustee
The task force surveyed 203 school district employees on questions such as: experiences with May Day; instructional time needed for dance preparations; student spectator and community engagement with the event; relevance to the redesigned education curriculum; alignment with district’s values of inclusion and diversity; use of resources devoted to the ceremony; merits of school-based May Day events; importance of the annual event for the district; and thoughts on whether May Day should be a community-run event.
The report stated there is “little general support” amongst district staff for May Day and “meagre support” for the Royal Suite.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, several community members spoke about the need to preserve May Day.
Former school trustee Brent Atkinson said the survey should have been put out to the community, not just school district staff.
“I understand that it is taxing to staff, I understand that there is a cost to the district and I understand, since I have been involved in it half the time it’s been running almost and since I was a trustee for 32 years, this issue has been discussed on previous occasions,” he said. “The community has always responded positively to the school district maintaining the tradition of May Day.”
David Brett, president of the Hyack Festival Association, disagrees with suggestions that May Day’s cultural display is contrary to the goals of inclusion and diversity, as seemingly disparate stories can be told at the same time.
“The concept of having a May Queen may have meant something in ancient times, but it means something different now. The idea of re-enacting things that are old and ancient is something that is a form of storytelling,” he said. “New Westminster has a very unique story in the context of the formation of Canada.”
Former school trustee Lisa Graham urged the board to “try and not kill” May Day in New Westminster.
“It is hard to believe that this district continues to try and divest itself from this wonderful tradition. It makes no sense why someone would repeatedly try to dismantle something so positive. I am hoping that through consultation … you will hear that, if you don’t already know, the school district is the best place from which to manage the celebration.”
In terms of public consultation, the school district typically posts reports on its website and circulates the reports to stakeholders.
Kelly Slade-Kerr, chair of the board of education, told May Day supporters who attended Tuesday’s meeting that “nothing has been decided” and the process now moves on to consultation. She said that consultation will allow trustees to properly consider the task force’s recommendation that responsibility for organizing May Day be transferred to another organization.
“Trustees might appreciate in advance some information about whether there are any organizations that might be interested,” she said. “It asks if there are any community organizations that might be interested. That provides the board with information when assessing whether or not we want to transfer it to other community organizations.”
Trustee Michael Ewen is looking forward to hearing what the community has to say about the issue.
“Timing is going to be an issue because we don’t have in place right now the people to actually run the May Day process. Many of them have retired, many of them have stepped down. That part is going to be difficult,” he said. “If we decided against this process, then the district is going to have to do something different to get a process going because the process that is happening now, I don’t think is viable.”
Trustee Jonina Campbell would like the consultation process to find a way to make May Day a win-win for schools, the community and kids. She wants to ensure that kids are involved in the consultation process, noting they have different views than adults.
“I watched my children – their response to May Day is very different than what my initial buy-in to May Day was,” she said. “Going through it with my daughters was very eye-opening, what it means to them. They don’t question it like we are all looking at it. To them, it’s just a big part of their school experience, a big part of being in New Westminster.”