History · New Westminster · School Board

Take May Day out of the schools and into the community

In New Westminster we have a May Day celebration that’s currently being put on by the school district. Elementary school children perform dances in Queen’s Park and a Royal Suite, made up of a boy and girl from each elementary school, is selected.

Back in November 2015 the New Westminster Board of Education directed that a task force be formed to examine the district’s participation in the annual May Day celebration. The report from that task force is now out, and here are some quotes taken from a survey done of district staff. Remember, the school district handles the event, and most of the planning and implementation falls on teachers, principals, and other district staff members, so they’re intimately familiar with what it takes to produce the May Day celebrations and how much effort it takes.

“…a generalized unhappiness and concern over the cost, the educational time lost in preparation for the event, the amount of preparation work involved in addition to an already challenging workload and the current relevance the existing May Day program has in 21st century learning…”

“…too much time diverted from teaching and learning. Too much energy and time reinforcing colonial traditions instead of embracing a more inclusive world view…”

“…easier to continue with the event to avoid conflict rather than re-evaluate our purpose behind it.”

“…the community can continue the event and the public can choose to take part.”

“Make it fun, not forced.”

“I think the May Day is an event that was designed for one cultural group only. It does not look at first contact, the role of immigrants in the formation of BC, the contributions of women, the development of political parties, the creation of infrastructure, the creation of Indian reservations, residential schools, etc.”

“It does not fit with our redesigned curriculum, it does not fit with our multicultural focus and our First Nations lens.”

“I feel that the redesigned curriculum promotes engagement with all histories of BC, and I’ve been confused for a long time as to why New Westminster teachers have their autonomy restricted when it comes to our professional judgement to teach BC history when May Day is NOT in the curriculum specifically.”

“[May Day] reinforces a patriarchal, settler‐dominated and exclusive culture that does not reflect the values of the District’s mission or vision.”

“…the whole Royal Suite election process has been a popularity contest that has caused social problems and conflicts within the grade 5s. It is divisive and unhelpful. It is particularly divisive in a dual track school.”

“…as long as I have been in the district I can’t remember a child with a visible disability being a May Day rep.”

“Many people have little understanding of what happens to make this event happen. It is not ‘just one day.’ All staff and students are affected by this event.”

“…students lose hours of instructional time…”

“…students are negatively affected as teachers have to arrange their placement during dance instruction.”

“…an increasing number of families now choose to keep their grade 5 students home on May Day because they feel it is very repetitive after going to May Day in grades 2, 3, and 4, which shows that the event doesn’t have full parent support…”

“It’s an exercise in crowd control; it’s a ridiculous use of teacher and student classroom instructional time, and I feel very strongly that we would better otherwise engage students in a school learning environment working on creative academics, or interest‐focused end‐of-year projects.”

Is the New Westminster school system the right place for May Day celebrations? The report and survey strongly suggest that no, it isn’t. 72% of the respondents stated that May Day was no longer an important annual event for the school district. 65% felt it doesn’t promote critical engagement with the province’s history. 72% felt the Royal Suite does not align with the school district’s values of inclusion and diversity. And 84% felt it was not a good use of district staff time and resources — estimated at $50,000 — to organize and stage the May Day ceremony.

77% did feel that the May Day ceremony should be exclusively run by the community. And this is how I feel as well. When the Royal Lancers dance was cancelled by the city, the community stepped up to do it themselves. There is nothing to suggest that the same couldn’t happen with the May Day ceremony. Perhaps it could be rolled in with the popular Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery Salute held on Victoria Day to honour Queen Victoria?

So yes, let’s get the May Day celebration out of the hands of the school district and into the hands of a community organization such as the Hyack Festival Society or the organizers of the May Day picnic.

I’ll leave with this one last quote from the report:

“I agree it is time for change so let’s work together to make it effective such as connecting more to our community and history in New Westminster.”

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