A boy makes the trek to Carl Cooper’s office.
The child is causing trouble in the classroom, not paying attention, not doing his school work.
Cooper soon realizes what the problem is.
“It becomes very clear he hasn’t eaten that day. Then it becomes clear in conversation he hasn’t eaten in a couple of days. How do we expect that child to behave, or to read?” Cooper asks, adding that the parents are not to blame.
“Unfortunately, that’s not an unusual story.”
This scenario took place during Cooper’s first day as principal at one of School District #83’s schools.
“My experience from 20 years in the school district is that poverty has gotten worse.”
Cooper is now the district’s director of instruction.
“For kids, you can’t learn if you’re hungry, you can’t learn if you’re worried…, kids are worried about their parents,” he says.
“Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, everyone is supposed to be able to have that opportunity. If you’re hungry and don’t have winter boots, then it’s not really an equal opportunity.”
Asked about homelessness, Cooper replies: “We’ve had kids ‘home hopping,’ I would call it. Couch to couch. And some in tents, I’ve known families living in a car.”
Those same families, he says, will insist on paying for a part of fees owed. He emphasizes how proud he is of the community, staff, parents and students. He points to a number of businesses which provide supplies for students, and groups like the Rotary which puts on a school lunch program. Breakfast and other food programs run in most schools. Teachers and parents regularly buy winter clothing and contribute funds, he says.
“At least a hundred times people have walked into my office and handed me money for shoes or a coat. That’s repeated in every school.”
Students, also. “I think almost every school has kids who do a food bank drive.”
But, he says, it’s difficult to judge the full extent of poverty.
“We can’t meet all those needs, we do what we can.”
Overall, Cooper admits, “It’s very heartbreaking.”