Schools becoming links to community resources for students

Schools becoming links to community resources for students

Student population needs a great deal of help, both while they are at school and also while they are not.

Families relying on a minimum wage job of $16.75 an hour are struggling to put a roof over their heads and sufficient food on the table, says Keith Axelson, principal of Parkside Secondary in Terrace.

“Minimum wage is not something to dismiss, but when your rent is $1,500 or more a month — and rents up here have gone through the roof lately — it won’t go very far,” he said.

“We’re seeing a lot of families struggling and a lot of it has to do with the price of rent.”

His alternative school on Eby Street has 105 students, ages 14 to 18, and many of them fit the designation of being vulnerable and impoverished.

“They have got significant challenges in their lives, which makes it difficult for them to function in a regular school. There are lots of mental health challenges for our kids, everything from anxiety to depression and some substance abuse,” Axelson said.

Many of his students rely on the school for their basic needs of food, clothing and personal hygiene items, he says.

“Lots of our kids live below the poverty line and rely heavily on social services to make ends meet,” he explained.

And some live independently on ministry youth agreements while others use the school as a base as they go away for treatment.

A few students are technically homeless and couch surfing, and the school connects them with child and youth mental health services and other community resources.

It all adds up to a student population that needs a great deal of help, both while they are at school and also while they are not.

This year for the first time, the school has received government funds to provide lunch for students.

But the money won’t stretch far enough to provide a proper breakfast, so the school district helps with that, said Axelson.

However, he requires funds to provide the basic needs of students — food to take home after school and at weekends, winter jackets, boots, toques, gloves, and items such as toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant.

He is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $15,000 to stock an in-house food bank and provide students with basic necessities.

He needs $8,000 to purchase food, $3,000 for clothing, $2,000 for personal hygiene items, and $2,000 for bus passes.

Axelson worries about how much his students get to eat as some, he believes, are leaving school and going home with no prospect of being fed there. He needs a stock of basic staples and groceries and healthy snacks so he can ensure these students will not be left hungry overnight.

His students in need of winter clothes have been mostly relying on donated clothes, but sometimes the clothes don’t fit.

Adopt-A-School help would allow him to purchase new clothes, coats, gloves, toques, shoes and boots.

“We see kids coming to school in shoes with the bottoms coming off being duct-taped back on, or wearing the same clothes over and over again. We do offer in-house laundry for kids so we can help them wash their clothes.

“Also, our kids don’t have the funds at home for bus passes. There are no free bus passes to enable kids to get here on city buses.”

As this affects attendance, he wants to do whatever he can to get them into the building.

“For a lot of our kids, this school is the only stable environment they know. So, we try to do whatever we can to support them so they can come to school, get an education and hopefully improve their life circumstances.”

By Gerry Bellett (gbellett@gmail.com)

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