Principal reports a rise in desperation among students

Principal reports a rise in desperation among students

Too many families cannot afford food, housing


At one time education was only about equipping students with the knowledge needed to face the world as adults.

That was a long time ago, says Jane Arbuckle, principal of Caledonia Secondary school, the only high school in this northern B.C. community.

Now before teaching math and English, it’s all about what she and her staff have to do to feed, clothe and protect the physical and mental health of many of her 595 students.

“I didn’t have to do this 30 years ago,” she said of her efforts to find the money to feed and protect the welfare of hundreds of her students who are affected by hunger and privation. “Thirty years ago, their needs were able to be met by their families.

“But the cost of living in our community has gone up astronomically — rental housing rates, the basic cost of food. If you want to buy the same amount of food as last year, it will cost you more.

“Some of our families don’t have more. They are on limited, fixed incomes so what they are going to acquire is less,” she continued.

“In this community, there’s a high rate of unemployment and with these cost-of-living increases families are struggling. There are families that can’t afford to keep enough food in their home, so students are coming to school hungry hoping we can feed them.

“It’s heartbreaking what we see every day here, but we are doing the best we can with what we have. I just want to be able to take care of their basic needs.”

There are so many students coming to school hungry each day that feeding them all is proving impossible.

She received $14,728 from the provincial government’s feeding futures program and is trying to supplement the food she buys on that grant with food donations from the local food bank.

But it’s never enough.

“We run out. We have students come up and the food is all gone, and we can’t serve them anything because there’s nothing left.”

How many students does she need to feed?

“Each day, I’d say between 400 to 500.”

For those missing out, there is applesauce and granola bars that have been provided by a national breakfast organization.

“These are teenagers, and they need more than applesauce and granola bars to sustain them through the day,” she said.

She is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $80,000 to feed, clothe and provide personal hygiene items for hundreds of students living in poverty.

She has students with no coats, with winter coming. They need winter jackets and boots to replace thin cotton hoodies and worn-out sneakers, which is all some have, she says.

They need toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and other hygiene items.

Not all students need help. There is a group whose families are well enough off that they need nothing from school except learning.

“These students are affluent, and they have their own vehicles, their own jobs and are more than capable and they leave the campus at lunch time and are able to acquire food without any issues at all.

“Then I have another population that’s entirely different who are hungry every day and we know it’s difficult for them to learn if they are distracted by hunger.”

What is particularly upsetting is observing the physical and psychological effects of hunger. Some students begin heaving or attempting to throw up even though their stomachs are empty.

This is most prevalent on Mondays and is indicative of not being fed or having had little food over the weekend.

“That’s what we see and that’s why, before Christmas break, we see an escalation in anxiety and misbehaviour because school will be closed for two weeks and there goes that safe space for these students and there goes the source of food.

“It’s the same prior to spring break and at the end of June.

“For some of our students their housing situations are desperate,” she said.

Some are essentially homeless and are reduced to couch-surfing in other people’s homes.

“And some, because their housing situation is somewhat desperate, don’t want to be in their home for very long. I come in at 7 a.m. and have students in the building because for them it’s their safe place.”

Several students are living with trauma as the result of abuse.

“We have students struggling with anxiety and mental health issues, we have students struggling with anger and frustration and we have students suffering from being the victims of abuse and these are big weights, and some are carrying all three,” she said.

“And yet they come through our doors every day and we do our best to help them get their high school diploma because I’m convinced that will offer them a better life,” she said.

By Gerry Bellett (

Get Involved. Share the story or donate now.

More Info  Donate