Schools are preparing for a tumultuous start to the school year, warning children in poverty will be missing from classrooms as families struggle with both back-to-school costs and the impact of Omicron.
"The impact of Omicron means for many students this will be the toughest start to the year yet," says KidsCan CEO and founder Julie Chapman.
KidsCan aims to ease the burden on children, families and schools by taking care of essentials including breakfast, snacks, hot meals, jackets, shoes and health items. Families are having to make heartbreaking choices, like whether to equip their children with the tools they need for learning or buy enough food. Students are starting school with a sense of shame that they do not have the right uniform or stationery, and they don't want to go.
Teachers are doing all they can to ease the burden, but they can't do it alone. We need help to support schools, so children start the year with the same opportunity to succeed as anyone else.
Staff in nearly 200 schools and early childhood centres supported by KidsCan have shared heart-breaking stories of the choices some families are forced to make at the start of the school year. This year is expected to be the toughest year as the Covid-19 pandemic enters its third year. One principal wrote that Covid-19 has impacted on many of our families' ability to provide adequately for their children.
There has been a marked increase in families needing support in the form of food parcels and food vouchers.
Teachers surveyed say parents are going hungry to pay for uniforms, siblings are sharing a bus pass meaning only one can attend each day. Students are staying home due to the shame of not having the correct supplies.
A teacher reported that one family paid for their uniforms then had no money for power and food.
Schools are particularly concerned the number of students returning this year will drop dramatically, as they have taken jobs to help their families survive. Many said students had spent last year's lockdown in substandard, overcrowded homes without access to a device or the Internet.
The anxiety and stress levels are now taking their toll on perseverance and engagement. Teachers are also shouldering back-to-school costs, so students don't miss the start of the year. Experiencing children not having the tools to learn at the beginning of the year is all too common. "How it affects attendance is not the real question. The real question is, how does it affect mental wellbeing when you are the odd one out without the tools to learn? It is soul-destroying. It makes you want to give up and not go to school."
KidsCan welcomes support to help families with back-to-school costs as Omicron arrives in New Zealand.