This month, kindergarteners stepped into our local schools for the first time as students. Things may feel a bit strange: new people, new place, different books and a bag full of school supplies. Some will jump into it all with excitement and enthusiasm. Others may take a little while longer to say goodbye to mom and dad and feel comfortable about the change. However little ones take on the challenge of going to school for the first time, this is the start to an important life journey for them and for parents.
Before you know it, they’ll be starting Grade 12 and preparing for their graduation ceremonies. At Prince Charles Secondary School grad events, I talk with proud parents who remember back to that first day, often concluding, “How time flies!” Their children have accomplished so much, and their potential as young adults abounds.
University or college is the next educational step for many. Whether learning a trade, research and writing skills, or how to do open heart surgery, all are great endeavours that contribute to the well-being of our society. Now that little five-year-old is an adult, graduating from her or his post-secondary program. Still, it feels as though life’s journey has just begun.
Without any doubt, education plays an integral role in our society. Learning to read and write being available to all is a relatively new concept in human history, and one that we are fortunate to practice in Canada.
All the same, too many parents struggle to feed their child before sending them off to school, and we know that it’s hard to learn on an empty stomach. I remember when I worked at the Nelson Food Cupboard, parents would be thrilled when they could get a box of healthy cereal and milk so that they could ensure their child had breakfast before school. Granola bars always went quickly among parents — great snacks for recess and after school. Twenty-five to 30 per cent of our customers were children 10 years ago. B.C. had the highest rate of child poverty then. It’s the same today.
No child deserves to go hungry. No child deserves to do poorly in school simply because their stomach is growling all day. But it happens, and it shouldn’t.
This is why B.C. needs a poverty reduction plan. The Liberals have made B.C. one of two provinces and territories to reject tackling poverty in a co-ordinated way that looks at all factors contributing to poverty and how we can address them. The ol’ “get a job” approach fails to recognize the difficulty in getting childcare, the growing poverty levels among parents with jobs, food insecurity and lack of affordable housing throughout the province. A plan would look at these issues and more, finding ways government ministries can work together to fill in the growing gap between rich and poor in our province.
Imagine a first day of school where every child arrives having had a good breakfast. They also have a full healthy lunch packed and enough snacks for the day. Imagine how the classrooms will be when all have the basics for life. Imagine how much our communities will benefit when every child has what they need to do well in school.
For this first month back to school, let’s enjoy the experience of seeing our little ones grow and learn, and let’s give all of them what they need to succeed.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.