The well-to-do can wear jeans full of holes but for a poor boy jeans ripped almost to the crotch and held together by pins and embarrassment are a stigma, not a fashion statement.
“It was certainly difficult for him to have to come to school like that,” said Hal Wall, principal of Burnaby’s Morley Elementary; and by way of explanation, “his family was going through a financial crisis.”
Such situations are not unusual in the schoo, which has a sizable number of refugee families and others struggling with poverty within its catchment area.
“We’re having to buy things for children just about every week,” said Wall.
Last year Morley received assistance from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School campaign to set up the school’s after-hours fine arts program, and a $2,000 grant to meet emergencies such as the boy with ripped jeans.
“We took $200 from the Sun’s money and took him shopping. He was growing and we got him a couple of pair of pants, a pair of shoes, some shirts and when he came to school, he was comfortable. He didn’t feel like he didn’t fit in any more and it made all the difference in the world to his learning,” said Wall.
Two hundred dollars out of the $800,000 raised by last year’s Adopt-a-School campaign is a pittance but small as it is, it’s an indication of what the generosity of readers is achieving one child at a time.
This time last year Wall was perplexed about how to deal with a number of children he felt needed to be kept at school as long as possible — as an alternative to being at home — but wasn’t attracting them through extra-curricula sports or academic programs.
Education for Wall isn’t a nine-to-three business but needs to stretch into the early evening for children whose lives have been wracked by trauma, which describes most refugees, or by poverty, or by both.
“If you have a refugee background, going to school can be really hard because you’re learning a different language, you’ve left your own country and you’re in a different culture. School is sometimes not that attractive and we weren’t able to connect with some of them,” he said.
So he couldn’t entice them to stay behind with soccer or extra-curricula math lessons, but is there any kid who wouldn’t want to play in a rock band?
He would soon find out.
Best Buy delivered $10,000 worth of musical instruments, including 40 guitars, sets of drums, four electronic keyboards and all the requisite amplifiers, donated to the school as part of the company’s response to the Adopt-a-School appeal.
Almost overnight a rock band class made up of 26 kids from Morley, nearby Edmonds Elementary and Byrne Creek Secondary — schools with whom Morley shared Best Buy’s largesse — had been created.
“It was a pilot project, just to see how it could work. We wanted to get to kids that needed to build up relationships with other kids and develop skills they could be proud of.”
“And it worked amazingly. When you’re excited about going to a music program and performing, that excitement goes over to the rest of what you do. Suddenly you’re excited to come to school and looking forward to it. Then the learning goes up, relationships with other kids improve, you build friendships. It’s been fantastic.
“It’s all come from Adopt-a-School. We wouldn’t have a fine arts after-school program without the help we got,” said Wall.
“I’ll give you just one example: we have a kid who’s been in turmoil. He told me at recess one day he didn’t have any friends. He’d just sit around with a frown on his face. He was unable to concentrate in class, unable to work. I could spend an hour talking to him and it wouldn’t have made much difference.
“Then we got him in one of our after-school programs from Adopt-a-School and it’s put a smile on his face. He’s loving coming to school and he’s connected with other students.
“The other day I heard kids at recess asking where he was so they could join him. These programs have made all the difference in the world to him and others,” said Wall.
At the end of May the school held a special assembly for the 29 companies, organizations and individuals who had helped during the year by providing money, food, clothing or technology. Many had been helping for years.
The rock band, fronted by singer 13-year-old Daisy Brisebois, opened the celebration — a dozen musicians and two students handling the sound system.
Sometimes school bands plod self-consciously through their repertoire but this gang showed no hesitation and gave an assured performance that belied the month or so they had been together.
Addressing the assembly, Wall looked down the list of the school’s benefactors and cited the much-used African proverb about it taking a village to raise a child, they being the school’s village.
He had a story of his own to tell about how a helping hand from the village could have unexpected results.
“Five years ago we had a family who couldn’t make ends meet. The parents contacted a local church because they were owed money from an employer who wasn’t paying them. They were not able to make their mortgage payment, car payment or buy food for their kids. So the church put some money together and helped them.
“I saw the dad a while ago. He’s driving a $250,000 Porsche and his wife is driving a $200,000 Porsche SUV.
“They have done very well and now they’re giving back.”
By Gerry Bellett (email@example.com)