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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

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. 

At Wilclay, educators found students needed extra supports to remain focused on their learning. In response, the school has several initiatives including a “wellness room” where students can go to take a break from class, get support for an individual issue, deal with conflict or have social groups facilitated by child and youth workers or teachers. Many classrooms have “calming baskets” that include tissues, Playdough, sensory/textured balls, squeeze toys and homemade glitter bottles. Students have access to the calming baskets whenever they feel they need it or a teacher can encourage students to use it when the need arises. 

For junior and intermediate students, having voice and empowering them to use it builds confidence and resilience. Regular gender-specific social groups along with classroom lessons by teachers and various community organizations create