By Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun
SURREY — Surrey principal Angelo Morelli says it would be a tragedy if his school, K.B. Woodward Elementary in Whalley, ever lost its breakfast program which feeds up to 60 hungry children every day.
“The kids need breakfast because often their parents can’t provide it,” says Morelli. “This is a lovely school with great kids, but we are a Tier One inner city school and many parents have the usual challenges of inner city life. Sometimes it’s either pay the rent or buy food.
“If we didn’t have the breakfast program, children here would go hungry and that would be tragic. Many of our families are on social assistance or suffering financial hardship. About a fifth are single-parent custody-order families. We have many new refugee children from Syria. We have a number of children with learning challenges, some with behavioural challenges due to the lifestyle of their parents.
“There are only a few Tier One schools in Surrey. But we’re definitely the flagship. We’re a bit of a remote outpost compared to regular schools.”
Outpost or not, none of the staff wants to leave, and kids who have graduated to high school have the reassuring habit of coming back, he said.
“We see them here every day visiting their former teachers. That’s rare and not something you’d see in a regular school. We build a great sense of community, trust and belonging, and the breakfast program is an important piece of that.”
The elementary school at 132nd and 106th Ave. has 547 students.
It is one of 22 Surrey schools that are seeking a total of $100,000 from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign to feed an estimated 830 hungry children a day. These students are part of the school district’s Attendance Matters program.
Attendance Matters is designed to use food as a way to attract children who are chronic late attendees to come to school on time. It combines breakfast with some before-school reading.
Morelli’s school struggles with a high loss of students who move during the year.
“Our transitory rates are very high. Most schools lose six or 12 a year, usually because their parents are looking for more affordable housing, or there’s family strife that causes them to move on.
“We lose 100.”
Morelli said his school’s goal was to improve the social, emotional and learning development of students.
“Some of them arrive with a fair degree of stress in their lives. If they were adults, they’d be off on medical leave. But they keep coming in because this is a safe place to be.
“The kids hate weekends and holidays. They don’t go on vacations to Hawaii or Mexico. Their parents are hard-working, struggling to make ends meet, and their children are often left to entertain themselves at home.”
Elsa Wattenyad, a foster mother to four children, backs up Morelli’s claim that children can’t wait to get to school.
“Sometimes it’s a struggle to get them to eat at home, but feeding them here is easy. They look forward to coming every day.”
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