Free food draws poor kids to class

21:45, Jan 07 2012
tdn sharren
Waitara Central Primary School principal Sharren Read says her staff go to extra lengths to help her pupils with basic needs.

Schools across Taranaki are dealing with the grim reality of poverty every day, principals say.

Students at primary and intermediate level from Waverley through to Waitara are relying on the Government and teachers to provide breakfast and sometimes lunch just to survive.

Waitara Central principal Sharren Read says mismanagement of income and unaffordable debt mean basic needs like housing suffer.

"The reality is these kids are living in houses that have holes in the roof and floor, and they don't know when their next meal might be."

She says programmes like breakfast clubs and fruit in schools are heavily relied on by some students.

"A free breakfast is a good incentive for some kids to come to school in the morning."

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Some of the children at Waitara Central live in houses that party every night, and some of those families up and leave the community at the drop of a hat because they think somebody might be on their tail.

"You get one or two families a year that up and leave and only some of them come back.

"Sometimes you don't get it right and it's frustrating," she says.

Backing up Mrs Read's concerns is Waverley Primary School principal Carwyn Caffell.

"If we didn't have programmes like breakfast club, fruit in schools and Kids Can [who provide fruit pots and muesli bars for snacks] then the kids would be hungry, they would misbehave and probably end up doing things they wouldn't normally do."

He says that being a decile 3 school ensured they received food programmes, and if they were decile 4 they would lose the lot.

"For decile-5-and-below schools, poverty is a very real thing but decile 4 and 5 schools are considered middle class, which is a farce in itself, and they don't receive the programmes," he says.

"I'm quite happy to be a decile 3 school on that basis alone and I would hate to think what would happen if that changed."

Marfell Community School is the only decile 1 school in New Plymouth, and deputy principal Danielle Manu says many children have to be trained to eat healthy food, even when it is free.

"We have instilled values in the kids by talking to them about the free fruit and educating them that it's healthy and good for them, and now the whole school eats it," she says.

She says children are exposed to a lot more these days and schools have to deal with pupils who are more street-wise and have greater access to the internet, among other things.

She says one hour a week of professional development time is simply not enough to deal with the new challenges presented by today's children.

Devon Intermediate principal Fiona Parkinson says her students come from all walks of life and there are families attending the school bordering on poverty.

"It comes back to the Government and their priorities for spending. The issue is a societal one – not just a school one – and it needs to be addressed at a high level. It's to do with the support given to families and isn't just a case of throwing money at them," she says.

Taranaki