In a one-day conference on January 27 at the Keeler Centre, the Northumberland Poverty Reduction Action Committee (NPRAC) looked at the issues facing impoverished children and listened as community leaders described their attempts to improve the lot of the disadvantaged.
The group acknowledged there are difficulties reaching some low-income families. Depsite that, there was ample evidence that the social services agencies and the school boards are attempting to bridge the gaps that separate the poor and their peers.
Steve Girardi, spoke for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.
He acknowedged the board's programs must attempt to "balance the odds", and help bring children "to be the best that they can be". It is a team approach with parent councils joining staff, parents and trustees to provide the best possible environment for learning.
Breakfast and lunch programs run by parents and supported by food agencies are in most schools and are accessed by a wide range of students. The public school board has a poverty prevention fund which can be used to fund programs. Mr. Girardi was particularly proud of the teen mom program run at CDCI East in Cobourg. Mothers and their babies attend school each day. The babies are cared for while their mothers earn the credits needed to graduate. The board also runs a literacy skills program for adults at its CIS Centre.
The board operates various programs within schools to facilitate language development.
In her presentation, Joan Ruf told the small crowd that the Catholic school board has many similar programs. She spoke of the screening programs used before children enter kindergarten. Ms. Ruf hit a consonant note when she pointed out that children must be self-regulatory to succeed at school. In one Northumberland County school 65% of the children who registered for school were not considered ready. She felt that having Early Childhood Education staff working with young children will be invaluable. Her board offers an evening activity night for parents to learn how to help their children with the skills they will need in school. A bag of materials is sent home after the evening. She broached the problem of dealing with dignity when engaging the parent who cannot read.
Numerous programs are offered by the Northumberland YMCA. Each summer preschoolers in Cramahe benefit from the a month at School's Cool, a program designed to teach skills needed in the first year of formal education. The Y also operates six Early Years Centres and a summer camp for little children. Its play-based Playing to Learn curriculum is child-led and develops self-regulating skills.
YMCA spokesperson, Linda Givelas reminded the audience of the importance of getting to children as early as possible. The Y's Sandparents program operating in Brighton, ties seniors with pre-schoolers for an hour a week for language development.
The Learning Disabillities Association of Peterborough serves this area. It provides programs at cost for children with learning problems. Mary Lou Maillet stressed that learning disabilities are communication disorders, not intellectual deficiencies. She highlighted programs to assist kids ini dealing with technology and in entering secondary school.
Barb Smith was the final speaker of the afternoon. Ms. Smith looks after children's services for the Colborne Branch of the Cramahe Township library. She reminded the audience that now, more than ever, the library is an important part of the community. Kids go there before they enter school. It is crucial to reach them and their caregivers before they enter school. One of the programs offered at the Colborne Library helps meet that need. The one-hour Colborne Storytime drop in program for pre-schoolers and their caregivers is free.
Ms. Smith admits that's not enough. Statistics prove that 95% of kids benefit from early intervention. If you wait until they are nine years old to give assistance, 70% have trouble.
"Poverty is real. We need to talk about equity." That was the final message given by Marilyn McIntosh.
Lois Cromarty is clearly an impassioned advocate for the poor. She listed the seven needs of the poor - income security, education, economic development, housing, advocacy, transportation and co-ordination of services. She implored the group to, "speak up, get involved, take action to become a champion of literacy and poverty reduction".