Writer Charmain Brown with students and parent volunteers standing in front of a school
Writer Charmain Brown with students and parent volunteers

Standing Together Against Poverty

Charmain Brown

teachers to form partnerships with families facing socio-economic challenges and create environments where they can be actively engaged in the decision-making process within the school. Educators need to listen to families, emphasize bilateral conversations and promote an expanded view of the school environment where families access resources from the entire neighbourhood and become empowered to take an active role in their child’s education. 

To bring family voices to the school, Wilclay asked parents, students and staff questions, including how they felt about the school and how the school was meeting their needs. The results were collated into core tenets called “The Wilclay Way” that were posted throughout the school in the languages most commonly spoken in the school community. These common understandings include welcoming and respecting everyone, creating a safe and healthy environment, always doing your best and being proud of your successes. They are practiced throughout the school day and celebrated through monthly assemblies. 

The school also asked parents what types of family learning they would be most interested in, recognizing that their workshops and curriculum nights were not always well attended. The results showed that they wanted to learn how to support their child and themselves social-emotionally more than academically. Topics such as How to Talk So My Child Will Listen, Raising Resilient Children and Dealing with Stress and Anxiety generated more interest than more academic offerings. From this feedback, regular “Chai and Chat” family workshops were implemented where families could come and learn from each other, school staff and community partners such as Positive Parenting Program (Triple P), public health and the local fire department.

Throughout the day family members are in the school– helping with snack and lunch preparations, creating displays to share cultural celebrations while board-approved community members provide language translation support, welcome new families and help them acclimatize to the school routines and support classroom teachers by reading with students or working on inquiry-based activities. 

The Importance of Addressing Non-Academic Needs
Both schools have well-established snack programs that are supported by the school council and organized by parent and community volunteers. The snacks that are offered to students represent the diversity of the school population. This partnership between the school and the community ensures the types of foods that are prepared and distributed meet the cultural needs of the students as well as Ministry standards. Many parents who volunteer in this and other capacities use their time at school to get to know their neighbours, practice their English skills and get a better understanding of what is happening in the school and how they can contribute. As parents got to know each other over the last year, they began mobilizing to support one another,