The two-week Christmas break is a joy for most students, but not for desperately poor kids, says Erin Watkins, a youth worker at Coquitlam Alternative Basic Education (CABE).
“School is closed for two weeks.
In here it’s clean, warm – they can’t get high – and they get fed,” Watkins said. “It’s scary for these kids when none of this is available.”
And Christmas just rubs in how harsh and different their world is as they can’t escape the non-stop pounding by advertisers of what gifts to buy, what to eat and drink, which builds to a crescendo – every jingle a reminder none of it is for them.
“The holidays are all about people getting presents and what to buy … then their friends who live in normalized families could be going away to grandma’s in Alberta for Christmas, but they are going nowhere.”
“This time of year is really hard on them,” she said.
Half the school’s 200 students are living with someone other than a parent.
“A number are in foster care, others are (living independently) on youth agreements (with Youth and Family Services),” she said.
Some have been homeless. “We had one young man sleeping at a McDonald’s trying to keep warm. We find they are sleeping on friends’couches or sneaking in through windows. They don’t know where they will spend Christmas and they dread it.”
CABE, on Foster Avenue, is for students who for a multitude of reasons aren’t attending regular high school. Some are young mothers whose babies are cared for in an attached nursery while they attend class.
But the school has deficiencies.
It has no library except for a donated book carousel found in the hallway – “imagine a school without a proper library,” principal Cindy Seddon says.
It also has no proper kitchen.
And for a school with young mothers who need to be taught how to cook for themselves and their children, and shown what constitutes a nutritious meal, the lack of facilities is startling. What passes for a kitchen is little more than a large cupboard inadequate for teaching.
The school possesses appliances, but they are spread out in various rooms and Seddon is attempting to raise $100,000 to remove some walls and configure the space into a proper teaching kitchen.
She also needs someone who can design it and has been husbanding money to pay for the work.
She has received $25,000 from the Seedling Foundation as a result of The Vancouver Sun’s last Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign and believes she can get $20,000 from the school district. She is asking AAS for the remaining $55,000.
The kitchen is needed not only for the mothers, but students who live alone or have to care for themselves at home.
“Lots of them haven’t come from homes where they had family dinners. They don’t have any idea about nutrition. Their idea of eating healthy is to go to Subway instead of McDonald’s,” she said.
The school prepares and cooks meals some students need to get through weekends.
“We like to give them four family meals. Some of our kids are feeding their parents, Jill (Allen) and Erin figure out what they need,” Seddon said. “We really need to teach these kids to cook, but we can’t.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)