Windermere Teachers’ Association tackles child poverty

The Windemere Teachers’ Association (WTA) is following the lead of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

The Windemere Teachers’ Association (WTA) is following the lead of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and calling on municipal and provincial governments to develop a comprehensive and accountable child poverty reduction plan for the province of British Columbia.

B.C. is one of two Canadians provinces without a plan — the other being Manitoba — and the evidence can be found in teachers’ classrooms, WTA presidentDoug Doug Murray told District of Invermere council on January 8.

After the BCTF identified child poverty as a concern, Murray said he talked to local teachers to find out what they were seeing, and what he discovered was disturbing.

Students come to class stressed and anxious because of family issues at home related to lack of employment and other issues. One teacher told him students were regularly stealing each other’s lunches, something he’d never seen before.

As part of the WTA presentation, David Thompson Secondary School teacher Werner Copp told council that B.C. had the second worse child poverty rate in Canada at 14.3 per cent.

Statistically speaking, this means 70 students at DTSS are suffering from poverty, said Copp, evidenced by books in tatters, grubby clothing and lack of food.

“We see kids who are hungry in class, we see kids that are dozing off in class, and when you ask them it’s surprising what they say,” Copp recounted. “I’ve had kids tell me they have no electricity at home, they have no food in the fridge.”

One student who was dozing off in class over a number of days told Copp he was afraid to sleep at home at night because he had a family member whose trailer burned down in a fire and his family couldn’t afford a fire alarm.

The WTA wants to address the juxtaposition of incredible affluence and incredible poverty in the Windermere Valley, said Copp.

“The reality is we’re seeing it in the classroom; the kids have no control over their living situation necessarily so we’re just asking for support in principle to encourage the (provincial) government to create some sort of strategy, a policy to deal with child poverty,” Copp said.

A community-based poverty reduction strategy for seven municipalities — Cranbrook being one — was announced by the Province last July, with plans for each of the province’s 47 municipalities to have strategies in place by 2014-15. The joint-initiative is between the individual municipalities, the Union of BC Municipalities’ Healthy Communities Committee, and the provincial Ministry of Child and Family Development.

But the BCTF wants a focus on child poverty specifically, said Murray.

“It’s about looking at our community, the students  who we teach, and trying to make it better,”  he said.

On Murray’s recommendation, the DOI passed a motion to write a letter to the Ministry of Child and Family Development requesting a province-wide child poverty reduction strategy.

“Not only should there be a strategy but it should tie together ideas like local food and learning how to garden and cook,” said Mayor Taft, noting Groundswell’s contributions to the community vis a vis the DTSS greenhouse, to which the district already provides some financial support. “If there is money flowing at some point from the provincial government, it should go back to these groups… to achieve some benefits for the youth in the community.”