Poverty in the schools – we are not all created equal

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Today was a good day.  We connected two of our community partners together and maybe now we will have a cooking class for our students after school – great!

 

I am a principal at a wonderful inner-city school in Ottawa, Canada.  We have a high immigrant population and many of our families live in poverty.  On our own, we don’t have much.

 

I am not complaining – it’s just that life in a poor school is so incredibly different from other schools, schools that are not much more than 20 minutes away.

 

Most people don’t see Ottawa as a city that has lots of poverty, and to be very honest, I didn’t really understand the level of poverty that exists in our city until I became principal of this school two years ago.

 

So, what does this mean?  First, there is no equity.  Some schools in our city can raise as much as $30,000.00 a year by fundraising projects and student fees.  We get a stipend at the beginning of the year that represents about 20% of our overall budget and of course, we can’t fundraise.

 

To be successful in a school like this, you need to become a community activist.  You attend brown bag lunch sessions with community service providers, you reach out to every community agency in the area, you never turn down something that is offered to your school for free.

 

You also become an expert fundraiser.  Over the past two years, we have raised over $150,000.00 through fundraisers run by our community and by winning one very generous national fundraising competition.

 

All this takes a tremendous amount of work.  The results are very gratifying, but even with grants there are strings attached.  Well over 90% of the money we have raised goes to environmental projects.  Again,  this is not a complaint, that money is enough to rebuild our dilapidated schoolyard.

 

However, we need money for sports equipment, software licenses, computers, recreational and arts programming and good winter clothing.  There are very few grants for items like these and that’s a problem.

 

What do we do?  We keep looking for opportunities.  Every child in our school from grade 3-6 has their own laptop – this is essential as many families do not have a computer so these machines go home every night and help families stay connected.

 

We get free swimming lessons and even free music lessons from the Orkidstra program.  We have a great program called Rec Link that works to link families up to free or inexpensive recreation programs in our community.  We even have a wonderful summer camp that takes at least ten to fifteen of our students for overnights throughout the year.

 

What does this all mean?  To work in a poor school, you have to be an advocate, you have to reach out to everyone, you sometimes have to be a bulldog.  But if you don’t do this, who will?

 

Is there equity in education?  Not a chance.  Whose fault is this – I leave that for you to decide. Am I complaining?  No, just acting and connecting every day.

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