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The opportunity to thrive

Featherston School pupils Fletcher Baker, 8, Josiah MacGregor, 7, and Myra-Lee Turner-Sinclair, 8, show off their KidsCan Warriors jackets. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

In the third of a three-part series on the work being done to improve the well-being of Wairarapa pupils, education reporter TOM TAYLOR looks at the extra support schools receive from KidsCan, and a future initiative that will benefit the region’s schools.

“I think teaching is a vocation,” Featherston School principal Gina Smith says. “You don’t go into it to be rich. It’s a job you do because you want to make a difference.”

It had never been an expectation that Featherston School teachers would provide for pupils out of their own pockets. However, Smith said that every teacher in the country had probably used their own money at least once to buy extra items for children.

“If you’re there for the right reasons, if you have empathy and you care about what you do, you don’t think twice about looking after children. It’s just second nature.”

Colmar Brunton research for KidsCan had found that “teachers are getting hit from all angles”, with many teachers and principals buying pens, books, snacks, and even togs, out of their paychecks.

“It’s something teachers do because they care,” KidsCan founder Julie Chapman said. “They help where they can.”

Chapman said KidsCan aimed to support partner schools so teachers did not have to contribute so much for their pupils.

“There’s only so much they can do, and I think the opportunity for us as an organisation is to look at how we can alleviate that issue so that children that are living in material hardship have the things that they need to thrive at school.”

Although KidsCan was known primarily for its food support, schools could also access shoes, jackets, and health items whenever they were needed.

Last year, KidsCan distributed more than 25,000 pairs of shoes and 50,000 pairs of socks throughout the country. Of those, 195 pairs of shoes and socks were distributed to Wairarapa schools.

Removing the expense of uniform items could free up more money for families to buy food. Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa pupils had previously received shoes and Warriors-branded jackets.

“Sometimes it’s just an expense their parents don’t have to worry about,” principal Phillipa Rimene said.

Lakeview School principal Tim Nelson said that KidsCan had even taken pupil feedback on board: “They do quite stylish jackets.”

As Year 7s and 8s started to become fashion-conscious, some had found the KidsCan shoes unappealing. Chapman said KidsCan had tried to keep up-to-date with different styles, as there was no point providing clothing the children did not want to wear.

“We make sure that we involve students in the conversation about what products we provide,” Chapman said. “We strike a balance between the cost of that and making sure that it’s something that kids will actually feel proud and happy to wear.”

When Featherston School first joined the KidsCan programme in 2015, most pupils needed shoes and jackets. In recent years, the school requested them only as needed, with many pupils passing down their jackets to younger siblings.

“It’s really good quality stuff, and the kids were so proud,” Smith said. “Our kids are pretty resilient anyway, but it’s nice to see them happy and having what other kids take for granted.”

Schools could access further funding from KidsCan to help their pupils take part in events. Such funding had allowed a group of Year 8-13 Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa pupils to travel to Taranaki to participate in a sports tournament. Another pupil and their family had attended a national swimming competition.

“That can be a big expense on the whanau, so to be able to alleviate that expense, and the whanau being able to travel to see their child perform at that level, is pretty amazing,” Rimene said.

Travelling to competitions opened up opportunities that might take for granted by more privileged pupils. It was also a chance to build relationships with pupils from other schools and learn the history of other areas, Rimene said.

As the Ministry of Education rolled out its ‘Ka Ora, Ka Ako’ free lunches programme to schools – including Lakeview and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa from Term 2 this year – KidsCan would continue to provide for schools in ways that complemented the Ministry’s effort.

“What we’ve discovered is that there’s still a significant need for breakfast items, so that will shape our food programme in the future,” Chapman said.

Asked if there would ever be a time that KidsCan was no longer needed in New Zealand, Chapman said, “It’s hard for me to see that now… Things are going to get worse before they get better.

“But I’m always hopeful. I would love to see a New Zealand where we didn’t need KidsCan support, where we didn’t need a lunch programme because families had enough money to be able to provide those things for their children themselves. But I think there’s still a long way to go before we’re able to be in that position.”

  • To donate to KidsCan, visit backtoschool.org.nz

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