Adopt-A-School: Britannia Secondary wants to dismantle barriers

Adopt-A-School: Britannia Secondary wants to dismantle barriers

“If food is not a factor, and (adequate) clothing is not a problem, students can focus on what matters most which is their education and development.” — Britannia Secondary School principal Alec MacInnes

The effects of poverty in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside resulting in inadequate food, inadequate clothing, lack of ordinary necessities from toothpaste to laundry detergent — are stumbling blocks to the education of many children living there.

As principal of Britannia Secondary School, Alec MacInnes, is in a position to see it all first hand.

“We are an inner-city school and there are high levels of poverty here. We have 30 per cent of students living in households that receive income assistance or have Ministry of Children and Family involvement which is quite pronounced,” said MacInnes.

“And a quarter of our families are single-parent and that’s probably double what it is in the school district and province.”

Hunger, lack of proper clothes, inability to access necessities that families not on social assistance or earning minimum wage hardly notice buying, are barriers to a successful education, he says.

And he’s resolved to make his school as barrier-free as he can.

Which is why he needs the continuing help of The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt A School (AAS) campaign because dismantling barriers — even invisible ones — costs money.

Britannia has been receiving AAS help since the campaign first started in 2011.

Three years ago AAS raised almost $60,000 so the school could serve breakfast to students coming in hungry to be spent at a rate of $10,000 a year.

This spring AAS sent the school another $13,000 in emergency funds to purchase food for families when school closed due to COVID-19 plus $10,000 that came from the Vancouver Rotary Club and was earmarked to purchase Chromebooks for students without access to technology.

Now the school is seeking another $10,000 to be allocated to the Outreach Alternative program that operates in Britannia for 45 mostly Indigenous students.

“This is an Indigenous-focus school where Indigenous learning and culture are at the forefront of all the studies they do,” he said.

“With students in alternative schools, engagement in attendance is a big factor. If food is not a factor, and (adequate) clothing is not a problem, students can focus on what matters most which is their education and development,” said MacInnes.

The money will be used to provide basic needs to some students: food, clothing, school supplies, food to be taken home, field trip supplies, hygiene products, new bedding and to pay for laundry.

“If (families) have reduced budgets at home they sometimes have to make decisions on whether they are going to buy food or clothing — a decision between two necessities where you can only afford one. So being able to help them is great because then it’s no longer an issue.”

Some of the money will be used so students can make graduation blankets and ribbons for their graduation ceremonies, he said.

MacInnes said the school also receives a lot of support from other community groups and organizations and for that he’s grateful.

It was heartwarming to see the levels of help given to students.

“The school and the district are incredibly grateful to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt A School program for its many contributions to our community,” MacInnes said.

By Gerry Bellett (

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