About half of Abbotsford Middle School’s 720 students could be considered vulnerable
Abbotsford Middle School has 720 students, ages 11 to 13, of which half could be considered vulnerable, says vice principal Chayne den Ouden.
Given the term “vulnerable” covers such a wide range of issues afflicting children, it’s no surprise the school district puts a great deal of support services into the school.
“We have a diverse population, 30 different languages are spoken here. A lot of immigrant students — refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan. It’s an interesting place,” said den Ouden.
“But we have a lot of school supports. We have two youth workers, a full-time counsellor, and a living support teacher.”
Each class has about seven students on individual education plans that require special assistance.
It’s a busy place, den Ouden said.
“We have three administrators, and every afternoon we are dealing with behaviour” issues, she said of students who have problems with social interactions or feelings of alienation.
Like hundreds of schools in the province there is a sizable number of children arriving hungry.
About 40 to 50 hungry children come to the school on Bevan Avenue daily, but the breakfast program that fed them last year — financed by a local church — has collapsed.
“That money isn’t coming back,” said den Ouden.
She is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $10,000 so she can continue providing breakfast for dozens of her impoverished students.
Den Ouden wants to use breakfast not only to provide necessary sustenance for these children — so they are equipped for learning — but to engage them in preparing and distributing the food to support their social and emotional well-being.
It would help some struggling to fit in, she said, and provide a sense of belonging
“The impact of the breakfast program goes way beyond feeding students,” said den Ouden.
One Grade 8 student who was finding it hard to adjust to life in Canada after emigrating here often found herself at odds with other students and was prone to inappropriate comments that would get her into trouble.
Then she was invited to volunteer to serve breakfast.
“She now feels a sense of belonging, has connected with other volunteers, and is no longer seeking attention in a negative manner. She’s flourishing,” said den Ouden.
The school provides lunch paid for by the government’s Feeding Future program for those in need, and weekend supplies of food from the Starfish backpack program are sent home each Friday for several families.
Schools in all areas of the province are reporting an increase in children and families needing assistance as parents living on social assistance or earning minimum wage struggle to provide sufficient food at home and rely on schools to feed their children.
This year more than 200 applications totalling $2.2 million have been received by The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund which operates the AAS campaign.
AAS provides funds to enable schools to pay for breakfast or lunch for children who without it would be left hungry all day. It also provides schools with the means to buy clothes or other necessities for children in need.
Since 2011, AAS has sent almost $12 million to schools across the province to support children with food, clothing, and other essentials.
By Gerry Bellett (email@example.com)