Support available for Medicine Hat students who are at risk or on their own

·3 min read

There have always been those students who are living independently for one reason or another and those who are at risk. School counsellor Leah Steiner believes that in the 15 years in her current position, the relevant percentages of those students hasn’t changed.

“Are they homeless and have nowhere to go?” asked Steiner. “That is not the case, I don’t have students who are sleeping in a park somewhere. They might couch surf and go stay with a friend for a few days.”

The Medicine Hat Public School Division wants students to graduate, but their No. 1 priority is stability, safety and ensuring needs are met. Partly, that involves connecting independent students and those at risk with a variety of resources available within the city, such as McMan Youth Services or Child and Family Services.

There are also financial supports from the provincial government which students can be connected to.

“There have always been students who have needed supports and resources,” said Steiner. “I think we have, as a community, risen to that occasion and said there are things we can do.

“We encourage students to live with their parents or guardians where possible. If something happens, then we try to pull in all the resources we have to ensure that they stay in school full time so they can graduate,”

Lillian Murphy, family school liaison worker said, “For kids who can’t bring their own food, or can’t afford it, or need the money for something else, we are able to provide them with food from our cafeteria here (at Hat High). We have a red-seal chef on campus who makes awesome food every day.”

The Root Cellar also sends supplies to help offset the cost of the food, and students who need it get a punch card they can use at lunch. Additionally, the school will connect families and students with the Root Cellar if required.

The school also gets clothing donations. Steiner explained she has a whole locker full of clothes for students who need it.

“Every situation is so different,” continued Steiner. “Our community is extremely lucky where we have places that are safe, accessible and staffed full time to help these students. It’s a matter of finding out and getting them connected. It comes back to the relationship lots of students have with their teachers and if they feel safe to come and talk to someone in the office.”

Claire Petersen, director of psychology at central office, added, “That availability of supports in our schools and the connections we have to the community is partly why, even though these kids might be having a tough time, they do come to school because it’s like a hub or access to the things they might need.”

School counsellors spend several sessions with Grade 9 classes before they enter high school. The classes also come for a tour of the high school and are introduced to the support networks available. Additionally, there are posters around the school where all the supports are listed, with pictures and names, ensuring each student knows what is available and how it can be accessed if needed.

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News