A Winnipeg mother and her fourth grader are questioning an elementary school’s refusal to print yearbooks that state the 10-year-old wants to be a bartender when he grows up.
As the academic year winds down, a teacher at Whyte Ridge School — a K-4 building located in the southwest corner of the city — is compiling a "memory book" for the Class of 2022.
Students were recently surveyed about their career aspirations, so the mementos can include photos of each pupil and a sentence about their young ambitions.
In response, Jen Anderson’s son indicated he wants to find work as a bartender "because he would get to socialize."
Anderson, who has three school-aged children, including twins in Grade 4, said she was not at all surprised when Zack’s teacher alerted her about the choice in order to ensure the family was comfortable with his wording.
"I thought, ‘Well, that’s cool,’ because we’ve been talking about that and all kinds of professions at home. I don’t want to push my kids into traditional jobs. I want to let them explore," she said.
"In this case, we felt that publishing that Zack wants to be a bartender (even though OK with his parents and for the right reasons) can be reworded in a way that does not lend itself to questions and interpretation within our community." – Principal Mike Weekes
The job title has come up because both Anderson’s brother and step-mother work in the service industry and Anderson, a family physician, paid for her undergraduate education and medical school by bartending.
Zack admires the fact his uncle, who lives in B.C., can snowboard during the day and bartend at night to make a living, she said.
Despite informing Whyte Ridge staff she supports the vocation, the school has suggested an alternative job title be used.
"In this case, we felt that publishing that Zack wants to be a bartender (even though OK with his parents and for the right reasons) can be reworded in a way that does not lend itself to questions and interpretation within our community," principal Mike Weekes wrote in an email Thursday.
Weekes suggested the school could publish "bartender" in the editions that will be printed for her sons, while the rest of the class receives copies with a more generic title that indicates her son wants to work in the hospitality sector. Alternatively, all students could receive the latter, he said.
Senior administration supports the decision "to do what is best for our whole Grade 4 community," the principal added.
"I thought, ‘Well, that’s cool,’ because we’ve been talking about that and all kinds of professions at home. I don’t want to push my kids into traditional jobs. I want to let them explore." – Jen Anderson
Anderson was "floored" by the insinuation bartending — a profession she said taught her valuable skills about communication and empathy that now help her provide health-care services for patients — is inappropriate and should be censored.
Zack said there is "no real reason" to make a change to the yearbooks. "It’s a well-paying job… It’s also a way to show creativity," said the 10-year-old, who stayed home from school Friday because he was upset over the situation.
It is not uncommon for the family to experiment with mocktails — whether they are combining Sprite and syrup or adding frozen berries to a beverage, according to Anderson, who noted Zack’s favourite drink is a Shirley Temple.
"Everyone thinks a bar has something to do with alcohol. A bar is a counter that’s about four- or five-feet high that you can serve anything on," said Avery Ross, owner of Mixmasters Bar Services, a bartending school in Winnipeg.
The long-time bartender said he understands the school is likely worried about the job’s potential connection to alcohol, but sees this as an educational opportunity to talk about safe consumption rather than shy away from the subject altogether.
As early as Grade 3, Manitoba students learn about substance use in the provincial health curriculum. Before entering Grade 4, pupils are expected to be able to describe the potential dangers associated with alcohol, tobacco and street drugs in the community.
"Everyone thinks a bar has something to do with alcohol. A bar is a counter that’s about four– or five–feet high that you can serve anything on." – Avery Ross
As far as Ross is concerned, every teenager should have to take a bartending course and work in a bar for six months before they turn 18, so they understand what responsible service looks like.
Bartending is a great vocation that allows people to work all around the world and make a full-time wage while only working three days per week, he added.
The principal of Whyte Ridge has assured Anderson there is "zero judgment" about bartending at the south Winnipeg school via email, but the mother said the yearbook decision tells her son his desired career is not acceptable.
Anderson said she is worried the situation suggests it is OK to be prejudice against certain occupations. Zack’s ambitions should be honoured like every other student’s, she added.
Pembina Trails School Division declined to provide comment on the matter.
In a prepared statement, superintendent Ted Fransen said the division "will not be engaging the media in any discussions about the school work of an early years child."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.