Adopt-a-School: School reeling from severe budget cuts

January 15, 2015

Everything not deemed essential went overboard: learning materials, planned technology improvements, school supplies, field trips, athletic participation, artistic performances, guest speakers.

Oh, and any food youth worker Carl Lewis had to feed a group of at-risk students under his wing.

Where once Lewis had the means so those of his 60 students — many living in impoverished conditions at home — could get a free lunch in the cafeteria or a bus ticket to bring them to school, if needed, now he had nothing.

“It affected a lot of things at the school,” said Lewis.

For a time there was a flurry of news reports about the cuts and public alarm, but after a while it all died away, lost amid the clamour of a provincial school system at war with itself as teachers and the government fought it out in classrooms and the courts.

“People thought, ‘it is what it is; you have to do what you can to survive.’ And from the outside everything still looks the same. Unfortunately they don’t see the kids who are suffering from those cutbacks. I do. But the public doesn’t,” said Lewis.

“This year the budget’s been set at $400,000 but it’s still not enough. A lot of things are still cut.”

The school’s emergency breakfast program only runs two days a week.

“No more pancakes or waffles or eggs; it’s just fruit and dry cereal and not as many kids access it,” he said.

In a metal bowl on his desk were some mandarin oranges — the remnants of a monthly delivery to the school of donated fruit — next to an opened box of granola bars. This was all he had to give students coming in looking for food.

And once it’s gone, he’ll have nothing.

Last year, he was thankful to receive $400 from the school’s aboriginal program to buy what he could.

“They are under a different budget and I was fortunate one of the teachers had this extra money left over and offered it to me.

“I went out and bought some soup, more granola bars, some cheese and crackers and noodles.”

There are times when hungry students come in looking for food and he has nothing.

How does that make him feel?

“It bothers me. It gets to you knowing a kid is hungry and you can do nothing about it. Emotionally, it’s draining,” said Lewis.

“It’s hard sometimes to wake up in the morning and come in and know there are kids struggling and they are not going to get the education that’s so important for them to get ahead.

“It’s poverty and hunger preventing it. We have a lot of new immigrant families and it’s parents struggling who may not give the kids the time they need to push them to get an education because for these parents it’s just about surviving.

“The parents have menial jobs that don’t pay much and they struggle to pay for rent and to get food and everything else and you see it on the kids.

“Education-wise it’s not as important for these kids to get that education as it is to find a job to be able to help out, to get things to eat, to live.”

Lewis has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $5,000 so he can provide some kind of lunch for students needing food and give bus tickets to those without money to get to school.

“I see kids who haven’t been coming to school and I ask them why and they say because they don’t have the bus fare to get here. We have kids living in Coquitlam and Surrey — even some from Vancouver,” he said.

(A number of these might be attending New Westminster secondary because they’ve been expelled from schools in other districts.)

If he had the money, Lewis would set up a lunch program in his office. Some of it would be used to buy a fridge so he could store perishable food.

“I could clear off my table and they could come in and make themselves a sandwich from cold cuts, peanut butter or jam. I could get them some noodles they could cook in the microwave, crackers and cheese and stuff. I could also get eggs and things and give them to the breakfast program.”

As the school’s outreach worker, Lewis needs to keep in touch with his at-risk students and the availability of food would bring them in to his office.

“Since the budget crunch I don’t see as many kids hanging out here in outreach as before. Getting food in would be a big help.”

For more information on The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Adopt-a-School initiative or to make a donation, visit vansunkidsfund.ca.

By The Vancouver Sun


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