Reversing the effects of poverty begins with the basics
Childhood poverty rates continue to rise in the United States, though we consider ourselves to be immune as an industrialized advanced nation. With 17% of those living in poverty being children as of January 2022 - nearly 11 million children, this steady increase greatly affects the way schools operate and often stretches their means in an effort to keep their kids clothed, fed, and equipped with basic needs. Educating students becomes second place to keeping them alive, which is a stark reality in many places across the United States.
We need to continue to look beyond test scores and performance to get to the root of the problem. Often the public is too quick to blame the teachers and ignore the underlying root of the problem - the damaging effects of poverty.
What can educational leaders do to reverse the effects of poverty and support their local families?
#1 – Educate your community about equity. Simple things we often overlook can be paramount to families without means. Assigning work requiring computers, group work outside of the classroom, and class parties become sources of difficulty and embarrassment for those without technology, transportation, or funds to spare.
#2 - Stock supplies. When offered donations, apportion some of the funds to stock your school with school supplies, snacks, clothes, and basic necessities such as personal hygiene items. Solicit the help of local sponsors, such as doctor’s offices, dentists, and other non-profits to help sustain these reserves. Allow teachers and students to request supplies quietly and without attention.
#3 - Reach out to parents/guardians to establish firm lines of communication and trust. Checking in with your community and offering all students the opportunity to participate can reach far in your students’ lives. Even when at-home communication seems unresponsive, frequent pursuit of communication symbolizes more than you may realize.
#4 - Prevent unjust assumptions and labeling. Educate your teachers to open their minds to the injustices and resulting issues caused by poverty. Instead of assuming students belong in lower level classes and cannot participate to levels that others can, challenge this stigmatization and work to supply these students with the same basic necessities as others before their educational opportunities are inadvertently reduced.
If we continue to challenge our own biases and assumptions and focus on the needs of our students, we can work to reverse the effects of poverty. Providing students with basic human necessities first and then working to provide them with basic educational necessities can level the playing field and offer them the same opportunities as their peers.