Helping schoolkids requires careful approach to support

Helping schoolkids requires careful approach to support

“There’s a lot of shame around needing support, so you have to be careful how you navigate and reach out.”

“I never knew I was poor until the school told me so…”

That brief sentence always springs to mind when Aimee Boyer, principal of Surrey’s M.B. Sanford Elementary, is considering how best to help an impoverished child.

“There was a kiddo who said that in an article I read. And I get it,” said Boyer. “It means we have to be really tactful around families in need, so we are not telling children this.

“There’s a lot of shame around needing support, so you have to be careful how you navigate and reach out.”

At times, Boyer will go to some lengths when helping a child. For instance, when buying a coat for a student she finds in the playground enduring winter with only a flimsy hoodie or dressed in pyjamas.

“We don’t call the kids down to the office. I’ll connect the family and try to drop it off privately so they can decide if they are wrapping it up and giving it as a gift, or is it just showing up in a closet. We leave it to them.”

This year, 37 Surrey schools dealing with similar problems are asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for a total of $150,000 in emergency funds.

Without these funds principals will be helpless to alleviate the hardships affecting children at home, such as lack of food in the evenings or at weekends, inadequate clothes or footwear, or lack of personal hygiene items.

Fortunately, a donor has already committed $8,000 through Adopt-A-School to Boyer’s school. The money will allow her to make life a bit more bearable for some of her students.

“With that funding, I have the ability to use it for immediate needs — everything from winter coats and shoes to food,” Boyer explained.

Her school, in Newton near 72 Ave. and 144th St, is in a neighbourhood that has shifted from predominantly homes occupied by one family to homes carved into multiple suites.

Many families there are new to Canada either as refugees or immigrants.

“It’s deceiving. A lot look like single-family dwellings, but when you hear stories from the families you’ll find there are four families living in a house, or there’s 11 people living in a basement suite.”

A similar situation exists at Kwantlen Park Secondary near the city centre, where principal Mike Kilpatrick needs $5,000 for emergency funds.

“School funds are very tightly restricted on what we can use them for, but The Vancouver Sun funds allow us to step in and help kids and families at critical times,” said Kilpatrick whose school is bulging at the seams — 1,650 students in a school built for 1,200 — with 16 portables taking the overflow.

Again, many families living in the area are new to Canada and housing insecurity is a big issue, he said.

“One of the most powerful things about The Sun’s funds is that it helps us build connections with families because when they come to us and ask for help we can say ‘yes.’

“A lot of these families don’t have winter clothes or boots or gloves. So to be able to get those things for the kids — to get them something new that fits and is meant for them — makes a big difference.”

Both principals will also use the money to allow students access to extracurricular activities their parents are unable to afford.

Boyer said that as well as a child’s physical needs, there is also the need to protect mental and emotional health.

“That hierarchy of needs — food, clothing and shelter — is from an adult perspective. But from a kid’s perspective, they are developing their sense of identity. So, we need them to have access to experiences around who they are. This is just as important as having a full belly, in my opinion,” she said.

Last year, Kilpatrick used some emergency money so a couple of students — members of the school’s robotics team — could go with the rest of the team to Victoria.

“These were kids who since they arrived have never left Surrey. Just driving them to the ferry was exciting and then them being on a ferry and being part of that competition.

“It provided opportunities for those kids to think about themselves as academic students — potentially going to university. These are life-changing opportunities.”

By Gerry Bellett (

Get Involved. Share the story or donate now.

More Info  Donate