Some principals and teachers funding school supplies for kids

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

Schools are bracing for one of the toughest starts to the year yet as families struggle with back-to-school costs, leaving some principals and teachers forking out for resources from their own pockets.

Gaylene Hill is a principal at Wellington’s Linden School and over the summer holidays she’s been rifling through op shops to make sure her students have the tools to get back to school.

She’s bought stationary, books, sunhats, togs, goggles, towels and even toys for kids to play with outside. She says those things are often the extra costs for families on top of their normal daily costs.

“We will be looking out for any students who are struggling purchasing anything they need for school we'll be looking out for the ones who don’t arrive on the first couple days and checking in with families just to see how things are with them,” says Hill.

Charity, Kidscan are aware of other teachers doing the same thing across the country.

“I think now that we are entering the third year of the pandemic, we're certainly hearing from teachers who are telling us that more than ever before they're really having to think about the welfare aspects of children’s lives before they can even think about teaching. So, they’re dipping into their own pockets for all sorts of things that are kind of essential for school that many children coming back will simply just not have,” says the Chief Executive of KidsCan Julie Chapman.

The charity has seen an increase in demand this year. They’ve expanded their support to 25 more schools and 10 early childhood centres (ECE), bringing the total to a record 854 schools and 122 ECE centres nationwide.

“Kids that are going back to school just want to be like any other child, they want to have the basic equipment they need to get on with their learning and that's really important. If you don’t have the equipment, if you don’t have the stationary, you’re starting behind the start line in the beginning and it’s very hard to catch up. Also, for families it’s really embarrassing for them if they can’t provide for their children and having to make those tough choices between putting food on the table and buying the stationary or buying the uniform,” says Chapman.

Read more: PM emphatic kids should return to school for overall 'wellbeing'

There’s also an increased demand for charities and the government to provide food in more schools.

The healthy school lunches programme by the Ministry of Education is currently just for schools and kura which have students that fall within the highest 25 per cent of disadvantage nationally. This year with the addition of 32 more schools added to the programme it will be reaching around 215,000 students every day, but the New Zealand Principals Federation says it doesn’t go far enough.

“The food in schools’ program has been piloted, it’s working really well in parts of the country and it should be upscaled because there are more students now that need it,” says the president Cherie Taylor-Patel.

Dr Cherie Taylor-Patel

She, along with other Principals 1News have talked to say the inequity and learning gap is growing between students that do have the resources and those that don’t, and now there are urgent calls from the federation for the government to step up their support.

“It’s really important that we find solutions and that we actually get this actioned now because in a month it’s too late the damage is done students have had to cope with coming back not being resourced, not being ready and that’s not okay. We need to have some serious conversations along those lines, and we need it now,” says Taylor-Patel.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says, “those aren’t new concerns, these concerns get raised every year at this time and that’s why the government have been putting funding in for things like the extra $150 schools get if they don’t ask parents for donations”.

The government is also currently in the process of looking at how there can be more support given to schools around extra costs like masks which are now compulsory for students aged eight and up.

For Hill though, she’s asked the community for help as the school start date fast approaches, and she knows many students will be without masks.

“A community member has offered to make student masks so she’s making 40 masks for us which I think is fantastic, such a generous offer,” says Hill.

Extra help needed across the board now so kids can just focus on learning.