Beyond the Breakfast Program: Addressing the Impact of Poverty in Our Schools

Shernett Martin

Something amazing happens when teachers openly discuss how to meet the needs of all students. The discussion begins to take the form of a lively debate on what has been tried, what worked, and what needed tweaking. By the end of the discussion, everyone walks away with strategies, ideas, or just simply a different way of looking at their teaching practice.

Among the things participants discuss is that the tried and true approach we have used working with  disengaged  students and the cookie-cutter teaching style that has worked for years without complaint now seem to warrant deep reflection and perhaps an overhaul. But that is what effective teaching is about. To meet students at their level may mean tossing out the old and ushering in the new. Students living in poverty need to know that although we may not have the power or means to change their situation, we can change the way we address their needs, and in doing so provide more opportunities for success.

This has been the experience of teachers and community partners who have attended  Beyond the Breakfast Program, an ETFO-sponsored professional development workshop on poverty. The two-hour workshop presents startling statistics on poverty, myths about what poverty looks like, and the impact of poverty on students. It challenges participants to come to terms with their own biases and attitudes about poverty and student achievement. At the end of  the workshop, each participant leaves with informative handouts and a DVD of the presentation, which includes lesson plans and a resource book list. As well, each school in the local receives a poster listing community agencies in the school district.

Numerous  studies  have  consistently shown  that  the  strongest single indicator of educational achievement and attainment is the socioeconomic status (SES) of the student’s family. Children of families with low SES face significant obstacles to educational success, which in turn threaten other important life outcomes such as stable and gainful employment, income potential, health, and civic participation.1

Students enter our classrooms every day willing to learn but at the mercy of factors beyond their control that may curtail their learning. Our students are coming to school from shelters and from homes where there is not enough to eat or clean clothes to wear. They are coming from two-parent and single-parent households struggling to make ends meet. Children living in poverty feel invisible and too often they are treated that way.2

Educators cannot wait for the government to fulfill its promises to reduce child poverty before we adopt measures in our schools and classrooms to address the effects of poverty on our students. In each of the communities where the workshop


Staged photo of red apple sitting on textbooks in front of blackboard

Did you know that 148,000 school-age children live with chronic hunger in Ontario and 5,900 children in northern Ontario use food banks?

etfo president sam hammond

Educators come to their profession as a calling. We do so because we believe we have something important to contribute to the children who will shape our society and build our future.