A new Toronto District School Board parent survey reveals an alarming trend on how cultural and social-economic factors can impact a child’s elementary school education.

The second-ever census, released Friday, shows that while many of the 90,000 parents surveyed reported being satisfied with the kindergarten to Grade 6 curriculum, there seems to be a troubling gap between students of low and high income families.

The census by Canada’s largest school board found that students from higher income families were more likely to participate in after-school activities than those from lower-income households. In particular, 59 per cent of students whose family earned a total household income of $100,000 or more participated in after-school arts programs, compared to 32 per cent of kids from families earning less than $30,000.

That gap was even more pronounced when it came to sports. The survey showed that 87 per cent students from families raking in $100,000 or more were enrolled in some type of athletic or recreational program, compared to 38 per cent of kids from families earning $30,000 or less.

That pattern was also reflected in the number of families who had access to pre-school and child care programs. The census found that 56 per cent of students from high income families were registered in a pre-school program, compared to 25 per cent of students from low income households.

Of the families grouped in the lowest income brackets, the survey found that many were either immigrants or visible minorities.

“All the visible minority groups mostly from immigrant backgrounds, the majority of the families are coming from the two lowest income bracket groups,” a TDSB official told reporters Friday at a press conference.

Family income also had an impact on emotional well-being.

More than 90 per cent of parents, on average, reported that their child seemed happy and seemed to enjoy their daily activities, the report also found that some parents felt their child seemed irritable or in a bad mood and complained of headaches or stomach aches.

The numbers were slightly higher for those in lower socio-economic groups, where 42 per cent of parents with a total household income of $30,000 or less reported that their child was either irritable or in a bad mood, compared to 38 per cent of parents with a household income of $100,000 or more.

The census also found that as students got older, many parents reported that their child seemed more nervous or anxious. While only 22 per cent of parents whose child was in junior and senior kindergarten said their child was anxious, 32 per cent of parents whose child was in Grades 4 to 6 reported their kid was nervous.

The trend mirrors a report the TDSB released in February showing an overwhelming number of students reported a host of physical symptoms associated with depression. The numbers were particularly high among Grades 9 through 12, where 76 per cent of students reported feeling “tired for no reason” and had difficulty concentrating.

“Attention is needed, especially in light of the findings in the 2011 Student Census for Grade 7-12s,” the latest report for elementary school-aged children reads.

The TDSB said Friday a new mental health strategy will be in place for the fall 2013 school year.

Other highlights from the census include:

  • 97 per cent of parents agree that their child feels safe in the classroom.
  • 88 per cent of parents feel their child is getting the supports they need in school.
  • 95 per cent of parents with children in junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten report their child feels happy, whereas by the time they reach Grade 6 it drops to 91 per cent.

The TDSB said a detailed analysis of several themes presented in the census will be presented over the next six months. That data is expected to help drive the school board’s mental health strategy.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Naomi Parness