“We are trying to create a safe space here. Many of these kids have had a rough start (in life) and mainstream school wasn’t working. We consider Arrow to be like a family for them.” — Kelsey Price
NANAIMO — The phone call catches Kelsey Price in the middle of a drama — not an unusual situation for a teacher in the ARROW program at Nanaimo District Secondary.
“We’ve just had a medical emergency and we’re trying to hold our kids in a safe spot right now. The ambulance is just coming. Can we talk in 15 minutes?”
Later she says what happened.
“It really took off there. One of our kids put too much air in the tire of his BMX bike and it blew up and activated a seizure in a girl. We had to evacuate the class. Classic day.”
The 55 students that come to class and the 20 others that are in ARROW’s outreach program find it more comfortable here than regular school.
It’s no exaggeration to describe their lot in life as troubled.
Some are homeless, one had run away and the police were out searching, a couple are living in safe houses, others are in foster care, some have mental health issues, others are dealing with the effects of physical and other abuse.
And all are afflicted by poverty.
“One hundred per cent they are in need,” said Price, who started ARROW five years ago with her colleague Janelle Lemoine.
“There’s a lot of trauma here. Yeah, so we’re busy.”
Once she has finished the interview she was rushing off to buy clothes for one of the four homeless students who are couch surfing.
“He’s a head-to-toe. So we’ll be doing everything: shoes, socks, pants, underwear, shirt, a hat and maybe a jacket and a bag.”
Price and Lemoine started ARROW with 12 students.
“We’ve just grown and grown,” she said.
So has the need for help.
She needs money to provide breakfast, lunch, clothing and other necessities for students who don’t have the means to buy toothbrushes, tooth paste, deodorant, hair brushes and many other personal hygiene items.
Life for them is a struggle, Price says.
Most arrive at school hungry and, even more disturbing, she believes many haven’t eaten a solid meal since they were fed lunch at school the previous day.
So basically some students are only being fed at school?
“Yes, or, from what we get from the food bank which comes on Thursdays and supplies families with stuff for the weekend.”
She is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) program for $12,000 to provide food, clothing and other necessities for her students, 25 of whom will be graduating this year and will need help paying grad expenses.
“Some of our kids will be the first in their families to have graduated. We hear that a lot.
“We are trying to create a safe space here. Many of these kids have had a rough start (in life) and mainstream school wasn’t working. We consider ARROW to be like a family for them.
“We are the constant adults in their lives and our whole goal is to help them.
“If they go to university, even better.”
This year schools across the province are asking for $2 million from The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund which administers AAS to feed and clothe children.
Many of the teachers applying for help attribute the increasing numbers of children arriving at school in distressed conditions to the cost of living crisis which is financially crippling families surviving on social assistance or minimum wage jobs.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)