We work with some kids who haven’t been to school in three years and who live in total chaos, and we manage to get them graduated and into work programs. I’m always hopeful.
Kristina Spring is a youth and family worker who, with teacher Manny Sobral, is tasked with bringing an education to teenagers almost lost to the school system.
Spring and Sobral are itinerant — their classroom is often at the back of a Starbucks, a recreation centre, or wherever they can coax their students to come and meet them.
“We work with students who have not been in school for over a year. Some have not been in school for over three years,” said Spring.
It is their job to seek these youths out, build a relationship and, hopefully, get them back into learning.
They visit them usually a couple of times a week, working with students for two or three hours mostly concentrating on English and math.
“We try to develop a relationship with a student and their family. Our hope is to get them back into regular school or an alternative program.
“When we are seeing them regularly — and have built up a connection — we start picking them up and taking them to a school, and we find a room there and try to get them reintegrated back to school.
“Some stay in our program and we see them through to graduation.”
“Almost all of our students are vulnerable. What we found last year when we got a grant (from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program) we were able to buy food gift cards and offer support to their families.
“Lack of food is a major issue. Being able to buy them food helps cement a connection. It really adds to our program and the success of our out-reach capacity.”
The team’s discretionary funds from the school district is $500. Already a significant portion has been spent buying workboots for a youth who needed them. A $4,000 emergency fund from Adopt-A-School will allow the team to bring their students and families food.
“A lot of the families don’t live near a grocery store, or they don’t have a vehicle, or some of the kids are on a youth agreement (living independently on government social assistance) and have just moved out and don’t know how to shop.”
“Some of the kids don’t have an address. They are staying with friends or they are moving about or staying at an aunt’s place.”
Lack of food isn’t the biggest barrier Spring and Sobral have to overcome in order to get some students studying again.
“Some are gang-involved or (being sexually exploited) and the reason they can’t come to school is they can’t be around other students. It would be unsafe for them to be there.”
Asked if being able to help them eat or buy toiletries or clothes might prevent some teenagers from being exploited, Spring said, “Absolutely.”
So is it possible to edge these youth away from harmful influences?
“I’ve been doing this work for 30 years. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It’s my job to teach them the water is safe and show them where it is.
“We work with some kids who haven’t been to school in three years and who live in total chaos, and we manage to get them graduated and into work programs.
“I’m always hopeful.”
By Gerry Bellett (email@example.com)