For some children, school is as close to family as they will get

For some children, school is as close to family as they will get

It takes only a few paragraphs written by the principal of one learning centre to another to lay bare the tragedy of a young life.

The details are so stark, there’s no need for any amplification.

On Nov. 19 at 9:47 a.m., Jim Mc-Connell, principal of Surrey’s City Central Learning Centre finds this in his email (names deleted): “I just want to give you a heads up for a student that will be coming your way.

“Over the summer (his) stepfather went missing and is now presumed dead, no body has been found. He was removed from his biological father’s care … due to a physical altercation which resulted in assault charges against his father.

“He was living with his grandmother and as of last week was placed in a foster home with family friends of his biological mother. Mom will be going to a treatment centre for drug addiction … and she has recently been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

“…(He) was taken out of taken out of math here … as all he could do

was think about the tragic events in his life. He has found more success … doing some crossover between Socials 10 and English 10.

… the past few weeks have been very successful with a significant increase in attendance … he is happy with his home placement and I am hoping that we can get in as soon as possible and carry on the momentum we have had.

McConnell says this litany of suffering is not unusual.

This is typical of the kids we get. And some of the things this poor guy is facing? I mean he’s only 16.

McConnell’s school on 109th and 131st is one of five Surrey learning centres designed to serve students unable to cope in a regular school.

“Mainstream schools don’t work for them. It could be because of life challenges, or the anxiety of being in a school with 2,000 other kids, which scares the heck out of them.

Either way, for a lot of these kids, we are their family. That’s the basis of our approach – to fill in the missing pieces in their lives.

However, filling in those missing pieces takes money, and the school doesn’t have enough.

I’ve taught in all five learning centres and this is by far the most impoverished group of kids,” he said.

Money is needed for food as some students are virtually homeless, or for bus fare for those living too far away to walk. Or for shoes or proper clothes, the lack of which are keeping students at home, or a prescription, a haircut.

The school has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $10,000.

If we got that it would be a huge boon to us,” said McConnell.

Last year, the school spent $8,000 of its small budget on bus tickets. Still, youth care worker Adair Bastin and aboriginal youth care worker Toni Burbridge often need their vehicles to ferry students around.

I’ve gone as far as White Rock,” said Burbridge.

Homeless students present the greatest challenge and worry.

I have four. They bounce around, stay at friends or with a family they can get along with for a night. Sometimes they’ll choose to go to a party because it’s warm and they can hang out,” she said.

It leaves them exposed to sexual exploitation and sex being exchanged for a place to stay, as there aren’t enough spaces in safe houses for them, she said.

But there are spectacular successes, and Burbridge tells of a student whose home life is in turmoil but who doggedly persists in attending and never misses a homework assignment.

Poverty and her family throw many curveballs at her, but she wants to succeed and works harder than any student here.

By Gerry Bellett (

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