BC teacher includes Boundary in protest marathon across the province
North Vancouver primary teacher Ian Cunliffe spent the past weekend running through the Boundary as part of his 22 Marathons Against Bill 22 campaign across B.C.
He is running the width of the province over 22 days as a public protest against Bill 22, which was recently introduced in the provincial legislature in response to the year-long labour dispute between the government and the B.C. Teachers' Federation. Teachers are concerned that the new bill will create more over-crowded classrooms with even less resources.
The Boundary Sentinel caught up with Cunliffe on his first stop in Christina Lake, Thursday, Aug. 16.
His marathon began on Wednesday, Aug. 8 in Sparwood, B.C. and will end on Friday, Aug. 31 in Vancouver. The marathon is completely fueled by Cunliffe from the running, jogging and walking to the gasoline in his supply vehicle, which is being driven by volunteers along the way.
"It's been really overwhelming with the kindness of strangers," said Cunliffe, a father of two young children. "I call it drive-by friending."
During one leg of his trip a vehicle pulled up alongside him, two people jumped out and began running alongside him. Another time someone was waiting alongside the road to give him a glass of ice cold lemonade.
"My goal is to have a honest conversation with the people of B.C. about how the public education system is struggling," he said.
Use your voice and use your vote. It's time to start doing the right thing.
"It is incredible to see an average person and an average teacher step up to make a political message and an incredible physical feat," said Boundary District Teacher's Association president Norm Sabourin, who was there to welcome Cunliffe to the Boundary and help him as he runs through the region. "He should be positively commended"
Cunliffe is no stranger to marathons. He has participated in a number of Ironman competitions and was even in a marathon across the Sahara Dessert in Africa.
During this self-induced marathon Cunliffe runs, walks and jogs for an average of six hours a day. It took him four months to prepare and right now he continues to run despite some minor injuries.
A teacher fueled by passion for learning
Cunliffe is entering the seventh year of his teaching profession. He is a primary school teacher and librarian at a school in North Vancouver.
He moved into teaching after years of working in marketing because he was looking for a more fulfilling career.
"(I love) watching the light bulb go off when a child is learning to read," said Cunliffe. "It is so exciting to see a non-reader blossom into a reader."
Since he began teaching seven years ago he's seen a steady decline in the services provided to students including the most basic ones like libraries, teaching assistance for those who need some extra help and access to school councillors.
Cunliffe has three main messages he is communicating to people as he runs; class size needs to matter, class composition or the ratio of special needs students needs to have a reasonable maximum and there needs to be a guaranteed minimum support for kids with learning difficulties.
My kids are not better off. Kids in a classroom were better off ten years ago.
"Kids are falling through the cracks," continued Cunliffe. He said school councellors are in "triage" mode and can only see to the most severe cases, leaving the rest behind for the teachers to try and help.
"With society getting more complex and with more cases of domestic abuse we are stretching councellors more and more thinly."
And with hundreds of learning assistance teachers being laid off across the province, Cunliffe wonders if a "cure has suddenly been found for learning disabilities"?
He is shocked over the closure and reduction in library services in a province that is supposed to be pushing for early literacy.
"How does closed doors on libraries fit that plan," said Cunliffe. "What we are hearing from the minister (education minister George Abbott) and what we're seeing in education doesn't make sense."
"Bill 22 takes a system that is already extremely stressed and stresses it more," he said.
This act that you are doing will get more political attention over the next 22 days than the BCTF did over the past year," Sabourin told Cunliffe.
Cunliffe spent a few more days in the Boundary and appeared at several public events including a barbecue held in his honour at a local teacher's home on Friday, Aug. 17 in Grand Forks followed by another barbcue at Deadwood Junction in Greenwood on Saturday, Aug. 18.
Cunliffe continued on his journey along Highway 3 on Sunday, Aug. 19.
To follow him virtually, look him up on Facebook under 22 Marathons Against Bill 22.