Why Some Kids Aren’t Looking Forward To Holiday School Breaks

by Kristen Thiele
Originally Published: 
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Some kids aren’t looking forward to the upcoming holiday breaks, and here’s why.

As we teachers prepare to close our classroom doors and head home to the warmth of family, turkey, pumpkin pie and joy, we need to take a moment to pause and realize: a lot of our students won’t have any of that, and no matter how much they may act otherwise in the antsy weeks leading up to these breaks, they’d rather be with us.

We’re their safe space. School is their safe space. Consistency and guaranteed food, well, what makes a kid feel safer than that?

And more on this later, but Christmas doesn’t necessarily mean presents for them the way it does for our children. (Many haven’t believed in Santa since preschool, they’ve told me so).

Let’s start with warmth. Maybe the heat isn’t turned on in their homes. These children have no control over whether their parents can or will pay the utility bills to keep them comfortable in these colder months. Many are even without jackets.

Some don’t have a bedroom… or a bed, for that matter. And those who do, oftentimes share that sacred space with multiple others.

That leads me to family. Family can mean a lot of different things. For instance, my students are my other kids. I love them. Still, I can’t take them home, and maybe their nuclear family doesn’t or can’t care for them in the way I do my own children.

Blood or no blood, I can’t help but feel bad for the children, human beings like my own youngsters, who want and need without respite.

My own children, never unsure of where their next meal is going to come from, have no idea the glow of excitement on my students’ faces when the breakfast cart arrives or the lunch bell rings. Prepackaged meals that, truthfully, keep their bellies (at least somewhat) full and a safety net in check. Meals not guaranteed when school employees, including food service staff, are home with their families.

It makes my heart ache.

Poverty is an epidemic. And to my kids — my student kids — there is no end in sight.

Some kids as young as age 3 or 4 realize that Santa isn’t real when presents don’t magically appear underneath their tree (if they even have one). Or worse, believing he is real and they must just be “bad.”

I see it on a local level, but the plight of families needing soup kitchens or the Salvation Army food banks to fill their tables on holidays where the rest of us are gorged on secret family recipes, and eating until we can’t eat anymore, is heartbreaking.

I see the $10 boxes at my local grocery store (which contain canned vegetables, powdered gravy and instant stuffing mix), and think to myself: that’s someone’s meal.

I recently watched a Ted Talk with my 7th graders about how the public school system is essentially making poverty cyclical. My students agreed. And to me, that was HOPE. They saw the difference. They agreed with every word that woman had to say except one: CHANGE.

You see, these 12- and 13-year-olds are so soured on the word I just used: Hope. They see no end in sight to the battles they and their neighbors fight.

They see no end to children in Pre-K walking themselves to school.

They anticipate the worst, without any glimmer of something better, because it’s all they’ve known.

Poverty is a trauma, and trauma begets more trauma.

How can we break this cycle? Because until we do, knowing what I know, makes it difficult for me to feel merry or bright.

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