Barefoot schoolgirl sprints ahead

Girl who braved broken glass given shoes

ASHLEIGH STEWART
Last updated 09:31 13/12/2013
Katelyn Chapmanf
Stacy Squires

HOT FOOT: Katelyn Chapman of Phillipstown School is developing her athletic talent since receiving a pair of running shoes.

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An 11-year-old girl wins her first running race.

She is lengths ahead of older peers, braving broken glass and potholes in bare feet. Why? Because she has no running shoes.

A teacher takes her to a sports store where she is donated state-of-the-art running shoes and the girl enrols in her first athletics meet. She places third but only because she faltered, not knowing what a starting block was.

Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson says stories like Katelyn Chapman's are common.

"This girl ran amongst broken glass and potholes in bare feet and won by the proverbial country mile," Simpson said.

Katelyn said she liked running because her four older brothers "used to run heaps". She now wanted to start running competitively.

While much of his time and resources are spent on the "dark side of poverty", Simpson is proud of scenarios like Katelyn's.

He estimated half of the children enrolled at the school are living in poverty. The Office of the Children's Commissioner's estimates as many as 25 per cent - up to about 265,000 New Zealand children - live in poverty.

The school has funnelled resources into stemming an increase in poverty-related illnesses since the earthquakes, such as asthma, head lice, school sores, hearing problems, visual difficulties and hearing difficulties.

There had also been a marked increase in mental health problems.

Self-harm was more common, frequently among the older girls, and so was depression. One child had recently attempted self-harm and contemplated suicide.

Children living in impoverished conditions were tired, stressed and physically lashing out, Simpson said.

"The poverty exhibits itself in many ways.

"We don't take a judgmental role or apportion blame, we just say the child doesn't ask for this.

"If you start apportioning blame you stop focusing on what that child needs."

The school was trying to assist a child with a violent family background, circumstances which were also on the increase since the earthquakes.

Children had stopped participating in activities as parents "just can't cover the costs of even transport to get themselves there".

"The parents just don't have accessible cash to pay for the basic things in life," Simpson said.

Deputy principal Gray Cleveland said Phillipstown had seen positive change, as the majority of gang influences had been wiped out and the community was now "more solid".

Most parents were employed and trying to do their best for their children, but the pupils were still "losing a lot of experiences that a child should have".

"On school camp you can pick the kids who aren't eating at home. I've never seen any kids eat that much."

Phillipstown School now had 36 partnerships with businesses or organisations to provide for needy children.

They offered food distribution services, funded medical bills and this year provided reading glasses for some pupils. But they were still only "scratching the surface".

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"We need increased support for when people fall through the cracks, and we have people falling through the cracks for no apparent reason other than people being in the wrong place at the wrong time, bad luck and circumstances out of their control," Simpson said.

Presbyterian Support regional manager for Christchurch, Selwyn and North Canterbury Penny Taylor said there had been a "steady and sustained increase" in relationship breakdowns and parental drug and alcohol issues among their clients.

"The children we work with have increased anxiety and/or challenging behaviours. There has been an increase in teen clients seeking help with depression and anxiety, bullying, self-harm and legal high drug abuse."

Hornby High School principal Richard Edmundson said there was a difference in the classroom behaviour of children from low socio-economic backgrounds, but "not as much as the community might expect".

Some impoverished students exhibited negative behaviour, but that reflected their "perception of themselves" rather than their background alone.

"It is common sense that it is hard to have a positive outlook on life when you're hungry, you're poorly clothed and there is not enough energy in the home to be given to educational outcome," Edmundson said.

The school was running a "hugely successful" breakfast club, alongside many other programmes, to combat child poverty and ensure schools were helping to stem the issue.

"There are repeatedly children who come from backgrounds that I am appalled at, but there are repeatedly children who overcome it."

Mairehau High School principal Harry Romana said bad behaviour in impoverished children tended to come from those without adequate support at home.

"Their negative attitudes and the environment they're brought up in reflect that.

"But there's many students who don't have very much, but they are fantastic, fantastic young people.

"They struggle along, but you wouldn't know."

- The Press

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