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

Standing Together Against Poverty

Charmain Brown

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, initiating before- and after-school carpooling and babysitting for those families who were unable to bring their child to and from school or who needed afterschool care. By providing opportunities to contribute and shape the school environment as well as connect with neighbours, the schools have become community hubs of information and resources for families. Staff and families have access to public health nurses, mental health professionals and other community resources for support in and out of the classroom. This includes classroom lessons and parent workshops on dental care or fire safety with care packages that include toothbrushes and toothpaste for each student or fire alarms for families to take home. 

In our schools, we have also worked to accommodate the needs of families who are building new lives in Canada but still have strong ties to their country of origin. They may return frequently and for extended periods of time fragmenting the family unit. This can be traumatic for students who do not see their parents regularly and may not fully understand the reasons for their parent(s)’ absence. 

At Unionville Meadows Public School, teachers recognize the need to be sensitive to these family dynamics. They are mindful how they talk about family relationships in lessons and, for those students who have been on extended absences, ensure there are plans to transition them back to the classroom socially and academically. Building resilience while forging new friendships for students helps with this. For example. “Girls Group” is a social support that focuses on providing safe spaces for girls in the junior grades to have voice, share their life experiences and learn to develop and maintain healthy relationships. For primary students, the Zones of Regulation program has been incorporated to give them language to express their emotions through colours – blue is sad, yellow is excited or anxious, red is angry and green is calm – and select appropriate tools to self-regulate.