While members of the community practice tai chi outside the school doors, students file into the building after the morning bell to music that reflects the different cultures in the community. Some go straight to their classrooms where teachers greet them with open-ended activities. Others go to the office to say “good-morning” to the office administrators and get a breakfast snack from a bowl that is always well stocked. A few students are met outside the school by a child and youth worker or teacher who provides the scaffolding they need to get their day off to a positive start. Other students leave the gym after a morning workout that includes yoga. This is what a typical start of the day looks like at Wilclay Public School and Unionville Meadows Public School. As a Regional Performance Plus Teacher, I work with both schools to mitigate the impacts of poverty by supporting staff and working with families and community members to create a safe and positive environment for students and their families
These schools are located in neighbourhoods where many children and families live in poverty and many new immigrant families have settled. The students and their families arrive at the school with varied challenges that impact learning and often require additional resources, supports and capacity. Using resources already available, the staff work together to develop strategies to support student academic success and well-being and give their students a healthy and supportive learning environment.
Child poverty is a serious problem and affects all classrooms in Ontario. According to the 2016 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Ontario, 513,850, or almost 19 percent, of Ontario children under the age of 18 live in poverty. One in six children in our classrooms is experiencing the effects of poverty daily. This statistic increases with children under 6, where one in five (174,250) of our youngest learners lives in poverty. Children from families who are Indigenous, racialized, newcomers, affected by disabilities, and/or are led by a female lone parent experience poverty at much higher and disproportionate rates.
With these statistics in mind, teachers in these two schools have implemented plans to address the physical, social-emotional and academic impacts of poverty.
When working with families who are dealing with poverty, building community is essential. Families need to see their experiences and perspectives represented and need to have the opportunity to participate and provide input. To best meet the academic needs of learners, the non-academic needs (food and nutrition, immigration transitions and well-being) have to be addressed. There is no formula for this; it needs to be an effort of collective problem solving since each school community is different.