At lunch today a note was slipped under the Staff Room Door for me. It nearly brought me to tears – in a good way. I received a lovely hand drawn piece of art by a former student of mine. This girl is in grade 3 and has a reputation for being a handful. 5 years ago she was my handful.
The drawing was of me. I am smiling with a flower in my hand. She wrote out my name on artful, fancy ways all over the paper and she signed it with a heart.
I teach in a neighborhood that is refered to as “The Hood”. Our school is surrounded by social housing projects and poverty rears its ugly head in the families that attend our school. This girl is from such a family. They live across the street in a tiny townhouse meant for a family 4. They are a family of 8. Mom stays home and does a fine job of raising nice kind kids. Dad is on his second tour of Afghanistan. I think it’s a crime that our military families live in poverty.
This young girl is the middle child. She is not as bright as her older siblings and not as cute as the younger siblings. Therefor she was my favorite. Her cries for attention manifest in typical ways like temper tantrums and not so typical like wetting her pants long after the age where it is deemed acceptable. School learning is harder for her than her extremely bright brother. She is often alone on the playground, or waits for the bell to ring before she will cross the street and get to class. Peer social interactions never came easy for her. She always needed adult support to start a conversation. As she has progressed in school, less adults in the classroom mean less support in forging new relationships. This girl would benefit from having a Big Sister through Big Brothers and Sisters.
Everyday I make the effort to find her and say hi. I tell her I miss her and wish her a great day. Every now and then I see her hanging around my classroom door. I introduce her to my students as a girl who used to be little and was in my class. I always make an effort to tell my students what a nice girl she is, and if they ever need help on the playground, find her. This girl never says a word to me. She will smile, but her words are silent. I am not even sure if she really remembers being in my class. But she does know I love her and I care about her. That makes a difference in her life. I am that someone who notices her and tells her I miss her when I don’t see her.
Every year I get a child like her in my class, from a large family who gets lost in the shuffle. Combine that with all the issues of poverty, and my job can get emotionally overwhelming. Today I read this blog a contribution to the Edmonton Journal’s Opinion page. The blog is from ABC Head Start, a program that works with preschool children and their families in poverty. It was a note about judging.
Now imagine being a family living on limited income. You have this preschool child (and maybe a few other children too) who is growing like a little weed! You want to wait until the last second to buy winter items for your child so that (fingers crossed) these expensive winter items last ALL winter. And lets face it, in Alberta that could be 13 out of 12 months. So you wait, one more pay check, two more pay checks, until the snow starts to fall to run out and purchase these items. For far too many parents this is the reality.
So next time you are at the grocery store on a particularly chilly fall day and see that family who’s children are not quite dressed for the cooler weather, let’s smile instead of judge because perhaps your patio furniture is still sitting on your deck.
Because I work with children who do not have much, I keep that in mind when I provide for my own. My children understand the balance between indulged and impoverished. They are lucky and know it, but they also have to do without. They know the value of social justice and earn volunteer hours for school. They have helped me collect things for the children at my school and will ask their friends for warm coats and mitts.
The next time you are out shopping and see the bin for Toys for Tots or Santa’s Anonymous, consider dropping a toy or more into the box if you are a family of HAVE. If you are lucky enough to be on the receiving end, remember to say THANK YOU. Showing gratitude causes things to multiply.
If you are fortunate enough to have a little extra money this year and not sure what you would like to do with it, please think about helping children who are hungry, cold and who go without. I’m sure you have a few ideas where your money would do great work, but if you need some ideas, I have included some of my favorite places to give: