Here in Toronto, 28.6% of children live in poverty and in some neighbourhoods this rises to over 40%. This means that Toronto is the child-poverty capital of Canada.
Many of these same children come to school hungry. A recent survey conducted by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) revealed that 41% of our children come to school without having eaten breakfast. We know that we are not reaching all our hungry secondary students. We know many nutrition programs forgo milk to stretch their money. Although the Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS) supports over 750 breakfast, lunch and snack programs that provide over 195,000 nutritious meals to children each school day, there is still much work to do.
In addition to hunger, the other family stresses that poverty brings for families new to Canada as they struggle with the associated challenges of adapting to a new culture and often a new language. Additionally, thousands of children cannot see the blackboard or hear their teachers. TFSS currently provides hearing and vision screening programs in over 100 of our neediest schools through the Sprott Asset Management Gift of Sight and Sound program. However, we need to double, at minimum, the number of programs we provide.
For many of our children, returning home to an empty house or apartment when the school day ends is a daily reality. We know that it is between the hours of 3:30-6:30 p.m. when children are most at risk of becoming involved in unconstructive behaviour. This was confirmed by the Toronto Community Foundation’s Toronto Vital Signs report. While our beyond 3:30 program provides after school activities as well as snacks to children in 18 middle schools in our neediest communities, the need for this type of program exists across the city.
Students under stress have difficulty learning – students under extreme stress cannot learn. Some of our students do not have enough to eat, some are living in minimal shelter, some are alone after the school day ends and many have medical needs that are not being addressed.
If education is the great economic and social leveler, then we must ensure that our children in Toronto are ready and able to learn each school day.
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