Hunger to Learn: Will BC’s hungry kids finally receive the hearing and help they need ? By Noel Herron
The ratification of the recent agreement between teachers and the province on moving forward with the many issues emerging from the November Supreme Court’s ruling on class size and composition, holds out, for the first time, the promise that the ongoing and dramatic rise in the numbers of hungry kids in our schools , over the past three decades, will get a fair hearing.
Based on last year’s analysis, by the province’s leading child advocacy coalition, First Call, there are currently 1 in 5 kids living below the poverty line in BC , or a shocking total of 163,260 kids in all.
Nor is the problem confined to the Lower Mainland schools as witness the following poverty rates in other locations: North Island (37%): Port Alberni and Duncan (30%); Prince Rupert (30% ); and Central Coast Regional District (52%). Surrey however, has a 21% poverty rate and because it is the largest school district in BC with 71,000 students, it has a whooping 23,480 kids living in poverty.
Visiting Vancouver in February, Canada’s UNICEF CEO, David Morley , was “ shocked at the depth and extent of child poverty in a province as rich as BC “. The internationally known child advocate spoke at both SFU and UBC and his candid analysis came as no surprise to local activists, as BC has the dubious distinction of leading Canada in child poverty for the past several years. The title of UNICEF ‘s report is: “ Fairness for Children : Canada’s Challenge “.
Now, with the recent signing of the new provincial agreement which establishes a joint committee to hammer out the broader and more complex issues related to class composition, in our diverse and changing classrooms, hungry kids will, at last, be on a provincial agenda, despite previous deferrals and repeated denials of their very existence.
Not once has the premier of this province, or a single member of the BC Liberal party, referred publicly to the plight of BC’s hungry kids . It’s as if they don’t even exist.
Currently the governing party seems perfectly happy leaving the deepening and continuing problems of malnourished children to the generosity of strangers. Initiatives such as the Vancouver Sun’s Adopt – a –School program, or private church, corporate, business and individual citizen and philanthropic contributions step into the breach to provide as much help as possible.
It must be noted that the if the joint provincial committee can’t reach an agreement on class composition by the end of the upcoming school year, June 30.2018 , the matter will be referred to labour arbitrator, John Hall for binding arbitration, by January 31, 2019.
Finally, the case for equality of educational opportunity, plus accessibility to “ an inclusive learning environment which provides an opportunity for meaningful participation and the promotion of interaction with others “ for our vulnerable and impoverished kids-- perhaps the most vulnerable of all—will now be on an official agenda.
David Morley, in his recent powerful Vancouver presentations listed 5 impediments that leave our hungry kids in the lurch. They are :
The growth and development of these kids should not be dependent upon inadequate nutrition or upon catch- as- catch-can initiatives and the generosity of private citizens.
It’s time for the province to step up to the plate.
As a society we must begin to seriously examine the neglected status of disadvantaged children and to dispel the studied silence surrounding the issue.
And finally , to right the wrongs these kids have endured for over three decades.
Noel Herron is a former VSB trustee and author of “ Every Kid Counts” , a history of Vancouver’s inner city schools. He has worked in inner city schools for over 15 years and has closely tracked the upsurge in child poverty since then.
Welcome to the PENS Blog on public education! Our bloggers include parents, teachers, education researchers, and other strong supporters of public education in BC and in Canada. Taking the lead is Bill Bruneau, Professor Emeritus UBC, ex-Vancouver School Board trustee, ex-President of his faculty association, and ex-president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.