Time to give all children a fair start – Raise welfare

Caitlin & 8 year old children at ‘Sad’ birthday

“It is time to level the playing field and increase welfare rates so all of our children can thrive.” That’s what Caitlin Pencarrick Hertzman, Chair of Strathcona School PAC, told a news conference at Strathcona Community Centre today.

The occasion of the news conference was a “Sad” Birthday on April 1 to make years since welfare rates were last raised in BC. Before cutting the birthday cake with a group of 8 year old children, Pencarrick Hertzman explained why she felt strongly the need to raise welfare, had written the letter to the Minister (see below) and organized the ‘Sad’ birthday.

“A few months ago Raise the Rates contacted me to see if we’d be interested in speaking up about stagnant welfare rates in BC. They told me it had been 8 years since welfare rates had last increased.

“I immediately wrote back eager to participate. As the chair of the PAC at Strathcona Elementary it is my job, and my passion, to advocate for our students. The most important piece of this is to ensure that ALL students at our school have an equal opportunity to thrive, learn and succeed.

“My son is 8 years old. I think how much has happened in those years. It would be easy to just think of the obvious increases in the cost of living, especially here in Vancouver. I think that it’s more important though to think about what happen in the first 8 years of a child’s life. These first 8 years are the most important years for a child’s development. If a child is vulnerable in these early years their chances for success in terms of education, health and employment are dramatically reduced. The Human Early Learning Partnership studies these exact issues and notes that one of the primary drivers of vulnerability is socio-economic status.

“Having limited access to funds and resources in your first 8 years can drastically alter your hopes for the future.

“Our school, our PAC and our community centre have done their utmost to step in and meet the gaps in our families’ incomes. Over 60% of the funds the school raises goes to emergency needs such as food security, emergency supplies such as weather- appropriate footwear and clothing, and covering everyday school cost for low income families. This money could be spent on musical instruments, workshops and technology to enhance our students’ learning experiences, like it is in schools in more affluent areas. Instead, we spend our funds making up for the shortfall caused by low welfare rates and a lack of an appropriate social safety net.

“If our government thinks that it is acceptable for children in our neighbourhood to receive less opportunity for growth and success, then we will continue to fight this inequality. It is time to level the playing field and increase welfare rates so all of our children can thrive.”

Raise Welfare Rates to Give Strathcona School Students an Equal Opportunity to Learn and Succeed

An open letter to Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development

Dear Ms. Stilwell,

I am writing to you today as the Chair of the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) at Lord Strathcona Elementary School. Strathcona is located in the heart of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver and has an incredibly diverse student body, made up of children from the massive social housing complexes that bound Strathcona east and west, to million dollar homes and everywhere in between. We are a fiercely proud school community, and we are very conscious of our diversity. In everything we do as a PAC we ensure that all of our students are able to participate.

Our school administration and teachers put a huge amount of effort into ensuring that all of our students are ready to learn in the classroom as well. The school seeks out funding and resources to give all of our students the opportunity to learn successfully every day. The majority of this funding is spent feeding our students, from our breakfast program, to subsidized hot lunch, to our “back pack program”, run by the Strathcona Community Centre. These programs provide breakfast and lunch while at school and send students home with food over the weekend. 204 families, that’s at least 36% of our students, rely on these programs. We spend $30,000 a year on emergency funding for our low-income students. That’s 60% of our private funding going to food, clothing and other essentials – like mattresses. Students who have empty stomachs, inadequate shoes and coats or unfurnished homes are not equipped to spend 6 hours a day focused on learning.

This funding should be spent on field trips. It should give our students tools to broaden their educational experience – like musical instruments, arts supplies, sports equipment, books and school supplies. Instead, the majority of our school’s fundraising efforts are spent on making up the shortfall in families’ incomes. When our government doesn’t raise welfare rates to keep pace with inflation they’re telling our students and our school that their education isn’t a priority.

If welfare rates stagnate, our students’ chances at success also stagnate.
It’s time to raise welfare rates, and give all of Strathcona’s students an equal opportunity to learn, and to succeed in life.

Caitlin Pencarrick Hertzman
Parent Advisory Council, Strathcona School, Vancouver