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Lake Cowichan parents want return of Strong Start

Program cut due to lack of funding
Children playing at a StrongStart program in the Cowichan Valley School District. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Champions of the StrongStart BC early education program based at Palsson school in Lake Cowichan are fighting for its revival.

The free program, which is offered at a half dozen other elementary schools within the Cowichan Valley School District, was cancelled in December 2023 but parents and stakeholders want it back.

Strong Start is geared toward families and caregivers with children ages 0-5 and enables both kids and their adults to get the feel of a school-based setting with a qualified early educator ahead of organized schooling.

Play-based learning, music, stories, art, and free play takes place with other children and their caregivers and helps to prepare children for Kindergarten.

Former school district trustee and current Lake Cowichan town councillor Kristine Sandhu told council at a March 12 committee of the whole meeting that a letter-writing campaign is underway to revive the program in Lake Cowichan.

Councillor Carolyne Austin later explained that parents have organized and are sending letters to the ministry and the town has sent letters to the school board and to the minister of Education.

“We hope it will be reinstated in the fall as it is a valuable asset to our community and to those who attend,” Austin said.

Austin noted that the program had been run out of Palsson but moved prior its cancellation.

“They moved it to LCS [Lake Cowichan School] and parents did not appreciate the place or space,” Austin explained. “So, many did not attend on a regular basis. They want it back at Palsson.”

Cowichan Valley School District Spokesman Jeff Rowan said the Strong Start program in the Lake Cowichan area was created by the Cowichan school district as an additional program to its ministry allocation of Strong Start programs.

“To do this, the district plan was to use the remainder of the fund until it was fully expended,” Rowan explained.

In other words, they added Lake Cowichan until they ran out of money. While the Strong Start program was unable to continue fully, the school district has worked hard to get other resources to engage those children.

“With the funding spent, the district has worked with community members to provide alternate activities including Strong Start outreach and story time. These activities have had strong participation and the District Early Learning Team continues to look for opportunities to collaborate with community members to expand early learning experiences for families in the Lake Cowichan area.”