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

Shernett Martin

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 has been held, schools are putting strategies in place that directly serve the needs of their students. In the Upper Grand District School Board, some schools in Guelph have formed an important partner- ship with West Willow Woods Neighbourhood Group, to provide an after-school program, a snack program, a sports and recreation program and, most importantly, a safe, nurturing environment where students are eager to return each day. Another success story is a school that adopted an “S.O.S” (Save Our Students) philosophy: each teacher voluntarily agreed to mentor 10 to 12 students in their school for the year. Students were able to access their mentors for support, advice, and encouragement.

These programs suited these particular schools. They may not be the right fit for all schools, but the point is that they are finding solutions to combat the challenges facing low-income students at their schools.

The “no child left behind” mantra does not include only literacy and numeracy. Schools across the province are answering the call to action and are working hard to close the achievement gap by acknowledging that they have students who face poverty, providing suitable programs, building supports in the community and with parents, and critically examining what needs to change in order to meet the needs of all students.

The Eastern Ontario Child Poverty Resource

recommends schools develop a plan of  action to address child poverty.3 Some of their recommendations include:

  • recognizing that poverty is an issue in every school
  • creating a plan to address the impact of  poverty in your school
  • considering how school-related fees affect low-income families and seeking solutions to ease the burden on them
  • putting in place supports and programs that help low-income children get the most out of their educational experience
  • being sensitive to different times of the year that may be more stressful for low-income children and families
  • developing working relationships with local service agencies that address issues affecting low-income families.

As the workshop continues to make its way across  the  province,  meeting  with  educators who want to make an impact on how they program for students from low-income families, the lively discussions will continue. It is my hope that along with the discussions we will work toward ensuring that  our  schools and  classrooms are places  where our most vulnerable students will hear the message that “Yes, we see you. You are not invisible here.”

For further information about  Beyond the Breakfast  Program 


ETFO president Sam Hammond

In January, Oxfam, a worldwide development organization that mobilizes the power of people against poverty, sent out a press release indicating that 85 of the world’s richest people are as wealthy as the poorest half of the world.

etfo members watching a speaker

Donna Dasko is uniquely positioned to talk about women and politics. She is the senior vice-president of public affairs at the Environics Research Group, one of Canada’s best known and most highly respected public opinion research firms.