The Vision of Renfrew County Child Poverty Action Network (CPAN) is that every child in Renfrew County have the feeling, and experience the reality of belonging. This is very important at school. We believe that all children should have everything they need to participate fully in the education system. This would allow every child, regardless of socioeconomic background, to be included and be ready to learn.
Unfortunately, many children who live in lower income families risk being excluded from many school activities because of lack of money. Financial challenges faced by school boards mean that parents are now asked to pay for agendas, school supplies, extra shoes, gym clothes, learning materials, field trips, and extra-curricular activities. We do know that various schools have developed a variety of approaches to help students and families, however, there are many gaps, and there is no universal approach to ensuring there is full social inclusion in every school.
During a series of discussions with low income parents across Renfrew County, they shared their hope that school can be one place where their children are on an equal footing with other children. However, parents and their children often feel excluded. Some of the comments that we heard were:
“I don’t think they should be doing pizza days and fundraisers in the school. It’s not fair. All the parents get the sheet home. Then you are either going to have to pay it and do without, or swallow your pride and ask for help., or tell the kids you can’t afford it and leave them out. It forces us to live beyond our means so we don’t have for things that are essential. Things like pizza – leave that for the parents for something special once in a while.”
“Every time I turn around the school is asking for money. If you don’t have it where are you going to get it from – a tree?”
“It’s embarrassing to go to the principal. I wouldn’t have the guts to tell him I couldn’t afford the fees.”
What We Are Doing About It
The School Inclusion program is designed to remove financial barriers to full school participation by providing a fund that can be accessed through an anonymous, simple and respectful process. School principals will access the fund, which will be managed for CPAN by our host agency The Phoenix Centre for Children and Families. The fund is guided by the values of caring, cooperation, trust, equity, fairness, and respect.
The School Inclusion program is currently being run officially in a few Renfrew County elementary schools, and the model has been adopted in many more. Two original schools were picked by their respective school boards, additional ones have requested to be in the program. We welcome requests from additional schools requesting to join the program. Communication efforts for our school inclusion program will focus on ensuring that everyone within the school community understands the reasoning for the program, the funding, and how it all works.
Based on ongoing evaluations and of our experiences for each school year-on- year, we will adjust the program funding limit per school and hope to expand to more schools in the future.
The need for funding varies from school to school, however we have learned that families who are able to help often give to those who are in need of help.
CPAN has conservatively estimated that extra costs of attending school are as follows; per school year for one student
Our goal is to build on the program year by year, and to include high schools.
We have found that the program is running very well with many families that ‘have’ helping those families that ‘have not’. Our hope is that all schools will find sustainability in the long term, up until then we will endeavor to make up the funding shortfall using our School Inclusion program funding.