Teachers are preparing for a tough start to the school year as more families than ever struggle with back-to-school costs, due to the fallout of Covid-19. Low decile schools are sourcing cheaper uniforms and stationery and ensuring parents know there is food support at school.
“For the more than 800 schools we support, this is a particularly challenging time of year, only exacerbated by Covid-19.” KidsCan CEO Julie Chapman says. “Children don’t arrive ready to learn. Many are hungry, missing a uniform, shoes, and stationery. They’re upset that they don’t fit in.
“One social worker told us about a really smart kid who was so embarrassed he didn’t have the right uniform he just stopped coming to school. Education is a child’s way out of poverty, so we’re doing all we can to help remove these barriers.”
Research for KidsCan by Colmar Brunton on food insecurity in schools has highlighted the challenges children living in poverty are facing every day.
“You can spot the kids with the poor diet, they look sickly, they’re not energetic, they have stunted growth…” one teacher reported.
Researchers found a lack of food is “just one aspect of the myriad of functional challenges” that some children face from when they wake up until when they go to sleep.
“Poverty pervades every part of the lives of too many children,” Chapman says. “Some start the day sleep deprived in an overcrowded home. Their parents may be already at work, working multiple shifts to try to make ends meet. It’s their job to get their siblings ready. Their uniforms might be dirty because there’s no washing powder. There’s not enough food for breakfast or lunch, no money for the bus. They don’t have adequate shoes or rain gear.
“The impact is huge. Some won’t make it to school at all. Others arrive wet, in dirty clothes, feeling embarrassed, stressed, and exhausted. They can’t participate in class like their peers, and miss out on camps, sport and other extracurricular activities. This is too big a burden for our young people to bear.”
The Colmar Brunton research also found that “teachers are getting hit from all angles” with the job consuming their time, effort and money as they take care of child welfare before they can teach.
“We pay for things out of our own pocket… pens, copy books, snacks, it’s just not sustainable,” one said. Another principal reported: “I go to second-hand shops on my weekend to buy togs and towels so the kids can do swimming lessons.”
KidsCan is aiming to raise $350,000 to help support families with back-to-school costs. People can visit www.backtoschool.org.nz to buy items for school children including hot meals, breakfast, fleece-lined jackets, and shoes. $600 supports a preschooler with food, clothing and health products for a whole year. KidsCan’s principal partner, Meridian Energy, is kicking off the campaign by contributing 25,000 hot meals to help fuel kids throughout the day. People can also sign up to support a child on an on-going basis for $30 a month.