Privation is the reason a recent University of B.C. study found 55 per cent of kindergarten kids in Brechin Elementary were educationally vulnerable.
Likewise, The Fraser Institute’s ranking, which ranks the school 940th out of 946 in terms of scholastic achievement, is more a measure of the want-not aptitude of the students.
There are other stats too: the 30 per cent of families (59) existing below the poverty line, the 37 per cent of families (in a school of 198 students) being regarded as transient — transiency often being an indicator of poverty as families move in search of lower rent or due to eviction.
Little wonder this is a student population under stress from factors that have nothing to do with schooling, the efficacy of their teachers or the quality of education being offered.
“The Fraser Institute ranking and the UBC study are really measures of the effects of generational poverty,” said Hart, who has been principal here since 2017.
The school’s inner-city status, plus the fact that 20 per cent of students are designated as special-needs students, results in an array of extra services being supplied by the school district, including a full-time community support worker.
But there are gaps that school services can’t fill.
“We have a lot of families living in social housing, we have many single-parent families and they are struggling,” said Hart.
Some parents overwhelmed by it all come seeking help.
“No money, no food. It happens every week. We do what we can,” she said.
Lately this has become more difficult.
The school normally gives families any excess food that remains from what Nanaimo Foodshare sends in, to feed 50 needy children breakfast and lunch each day.
“Any leftover food we bag it up and give it out,” she said.
However, the food bank’s stocks are down, consequently there is less to spare. Reliance on the food bank is such a necessity for some families that “we’ll drive them there if we have to,” Hart said.
Also once a month the school distributes boxes of food to help parents get through the weekend.
“We do 10 or 12 boxes for families, but once a month isn’t enough for them. They need help every week,” she said.
So the school is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $5,000 to buy grocery gift cards so families in need can be helped each weekend.
“They need fresh food and produce, fruit, and vegetables — they’ll never get them otherwise,” said Hart, mindful that food banks generally only distribute packaged or non-perishable food. “If we could do that for them it would be amazing.”
The Adopt-A-School campaign has distributed almost $4.8 million since it began in 2011.
However, Hart needs more than just food for her kids.
“They also need warm clothing and shoes — underwear, toques, gloves, socks. We are trying to decrease their vulnerability by increasing their access to basic needs. Sometimes we see them come in with mismatched socks or with just one sock. We’d like to help them stay warm and dry.
“If we had $1,000 for clothing we could take care of them better.”
Many schools across B.C. are experiencing the same problems as Brechin and The Sun has received requests for almost $1 million to help teachers feed and clothe needy children.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)