High school students, teachers come out to support striking support staff in Halifax area

Students from Cole Harbour District High School and Auburn Drive High School join school support workers on the picket lines in the Halifax area on Friday.  (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)
Students from Cole Harbour District High School and Auburn Drive High School join school support workers on the picket lines in the Halifax area on Friday. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)

High schoolers and teachers showed their support for striking school support workers across the Halifax-area on Friday.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5047, which represents more than 1,800 workers in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education, walked off the job on Wednesday.

Schools in the Halifax area remain open — with the exception of pre-primary classes — but support workers such as educational program assistants (EPA's), who help students in need of one-on-one care, were on picket lines.

Leah Wanamake, is a Grade 10 high school student from Auburn Drive High School. She was one of the many high school students who joined the picket line outside Cole Harbour District High School.

Wanamake and other students chanted, "We want Ira." Ira Fraser is an African Nova Scotian student support worker at their school. The students said they miss the EPA's who work at their schools.

"They're so helpful with all of our students and we just want them back in our school," Wanamake said.

Only CUPE members in the Halifax area are on strike after voting last weekend to reject a tentative agreement reached by the province and their union last month.

In Halifax, strikers are asking for more than the 6.5 per cent increase over a three-year contract accepted by support staff elsewhere in the province.

The striking workers also include early childhood educators, assistive technology support workers, child and youth care practitioners, Mi'kmaw and Indigenous student support workers,  SchoolsPlus community outreach workers and school library specialists.


Another Grade 10 student from Auburn Drive, Landon Perry, said that the absence of the support staff is obvious.

"Right now our school is so mixed up. We miss them, we need them and they need to get a raise," Perry said.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

At Burton Ettinger Elementary School, some teachers joined the picket line.

Hailey Graves is a Grade 2 French Immersion teacher at the school. She said it is "extremely hard and heartbreaking" that some students with disabilities aren't allowed to go to school right now because they wouldn't be safe in the classroom without assistance.

"Everyone is being pulled in a thousand different directions because we cannot function. Our school does not run without these CUPE members," she said.

"They're part of our school, they're part of our family. They're an essential part of our every single day."

Tammy Jakeman, a strike captain and educational program assistant at Astral Drive Junior High School, said that seeing the students' support is sending a strong message.

"Knowing that they're here and that they're missing us in the classrooms and just seeing us in the hallways is huge," she said.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

She works with neurodivergent children, including children on the autism spectrum, and said that she teaches her students to make their own opinions.

"They've made critical decisions, understanding what's at stake. So it warms my heart now. I love it," Jakeman said.

The fact that the students know that they can make a difference, she said, means a lot.

Ryan Lutes, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union president, said that teachers are "100 per cent behind our CUPE workers."

He said that support staff help the most vulnerable children.

"Teachers understand their value and we call on government to understand their value as well and to get to a fair deal because that's what our kids need," Lutes said.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

"They're not asking for a lot. They're asking for a living wage, and that's what they deserve. We shouldn't have folks working in schools living in poverty," he said.

Support staff usually make between $14.50-$22.65 in Nova Scotia. In Halifax, the living wage in 2022 was $23.50. 

Wanda Baker Hayward, a picket line captain, said that the strikers feel boosted with the students' support.

"A lot of us are in tears because we're so happy," she said.

Hayward said when drivers show support by honking their horns it feels good, "but it's really great to see the students that we work with come out and show their support."