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Blog: Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Our Role in Dealing with Poverty

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

I have decided to go back to my Top 10 list for 2018, and share a little about child poverty and homelessness. I have found the term “child poverty” to be a little baffling, since the odds are that if a child is poor or homeless, then it stands to reason that his or her parents also exist under the same conditions. I stand to be corrected, but I think adding the word “child” to it drives home the significance of the issue, and (hopefully) heightens the level of urgency for communities to act.

Learning takes a back seat for a child whose basic needs are not met. We know that their outcomes are far worse in the education system when they do not have a home, never mind a stable one, or the basic necessities of food and clothing. The impact of these issues can be devastating to their life chances. Research suggests that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds have lower levels of belonging, and value school less than their peers from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Hence, it should not surprise us to know that a greater percentage of non-graduates come from poorer households. These outcomes are an insult to the promise of a public education system as a great equalizer.

Our core business is teaching and learning, but whether we like it or not, we are not powerless to deal with student poverty. True, social service agencies play a lead role in addressing these issues, but we know that there are still many gaps in services. And while families wait, their children suffer. Let me share a few things that we are doing and can do to address this very complex issue.

1. Being an advocate. I want to celebrate the youth care workers in our district. They have firsthand knowledge of these issues and how they impact our students. They are often the last hope for our students. They are the ones who call the Ministry and service agencies, navigate the bureaucracies, find temporary housing, get food for students, and generally keep hope in our students’ lives. When our students do not have a voice our YCWs are the ones who often provide it.

2. Being a good partner. Again, while I sometimes lament that we have to do it, our school district works closely with numerous social service agencies to support students. We provide space for their staff in our schools and jointly operate programs that help the most disenfranchised families. It creates hope when students see the various adults in their lives working together for them.

3. Providing food. I have mentioned it before, but it is worth reiterating that between the School Meals Program, Starfish Backpack Program, and the various Breakfast Programs, we feed over 1000 students each day. It is not a long-term solution, but having grown up in a family that occasionally had to use the food bank, I know it can make the difference for a child as their family seeks to stabilize itself.

4. Becoming students of the issue. I recently encountered a group of students from RHSS who were studying homelessness and poverty in their community, with the hopes of resolving some of the challenges. They were not the first, nor should they be the last. Homelessness and poverty are very complex issues, and there is no simple solution. The more of us who understand it, the more we can lend our intellectual and social energy to it, the greater likelihood that we will develop the various solutions needed.

5. Having empathy. It is important that each of us tries to walk in the shoes of our students. Take the time to listen and understand their experiences. Do not personalize the negative behaviours which sometimes arise a consequence of the distress in their lives. The truth is that the school system, specifically a teacher, will be their best hope.

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.