Chaplains help kids doing it tough

Tamra CarrGeraldton Guardian
YouthCARE area chaplain Martin Bekker organised the event at Champion Bay Senior High School.
Camera IconYouthCARE area chaplain Martin Bekker organised the event at Champion Bay Senior High School. Credit: Tamra Carr, The Geraldton Guardian

Schools are under increased pressure to take on responsibilities traditionally expected of parents, which has elevated chaplaincy to a critical role, according to Geraldton educators.

Speaking at a YouthCARE event last week, principals and chaplains said some students whose backgrounds included poverty, domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse believed it to be a normal way to live.

Some children were coming to school without shoes, with little sleep, hungry and sometimes incapable of “going to maths class and singing the times tables”.

Rangeway Primary School principal Dean Vose said some children had parents that were least equipped to help them, placing increasing demand on teachers.

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“If there’s a community issue, the answer is always more education, so that gets pushed on schools,” he said.

“Teachers are there to deliver the curriculum, that’s their expertise, so we, at least at Rangeway Primary School, have a whole team of people, including our school chaplain Jenny Box, to help with everything else.”

Mr Vose said students would seek out Mrs Box for non-judgmental help and she was an integral part of forming case management plans for at-risk students as she was often told critical information about a student’s home life that teachers were not privy to.

“We only have one Jenny, but we wish we had 10,” Mr Vose told the breakfast gathering of educators and community members.

Geraldton Senior High School chaplain Eric Behiels said he had helped students who were hungry, lived with the burden of death or sickness in their families, had been forced out of home, or who were suffering sleep deprivation or sexual abuse.

“We had one student who was swearing and slamming doors,” Mr Behiels said.

“A teacher told him he’d better go see the chaplain ... it turned out he hadn’t eaten in two days.”

The chaplain said the student’s family had fallen on hard times and there was no food in the house.

“So, I gathered up my close friends and we paid the $600 gas bill and got the family into some counselling,” he said.

The event, hosted by Champion Bay Senior High School and organised by YouthCARE area manager Martin Bekker, was designed to showcase the important work of school chaplains.

Visiting YouthCARE chief executive Stanley Jeyaraj read out a letter from a student who had used chaplaincy services while his mother had cancer. She later died.

“I sent the letter of thanks to Education Minister Sue Ellery,” Mr Jeyaraj said.

“(She said) I agree with the student — chaplains have a role only special people can do.”

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