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Educators work tirelessly to ensure that all children learn, grow, and succeed. They devote themselves to their students, and will go to great lengths to help a child in need. Many students struggle academically, or have trouble connecting to their peers. For thousands of other students, however, they struggle with another issue – poverty. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), roughly 16 million children and teenagers in the United States—1 in every 5—live below the federal poverty line. Nineteen percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 live below the poverty line. Teenagers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds demonstrate lower academic achievement, are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, and are more likely to drop out of school. What measures can be taken to ensure academic success for students living in poverty?
Individuals from low income families often internalize poverty as a self-deficiency. It is important to stress to students that they can achieve academic success, and that their current situation is not a predictor of their future. Greene County Middle School, a school located in rural Snow Hill, North Carolina, tries to stress this message to their students. The article “How One School is Fighting Poverty” explains that large signs are placed around Greene County Middle School with the message “It’s Not If You’ll Go to College, It’s When You’ll Go to College”. For many of the students at the school who are living below the poverty line, seeing this message every day helps them believe they can attend a higher education institution.
There are many different ways that teachers and administrators can approach helping students who live in poverty. “Educating Students Who Live In Poverty” provides a list of five different strategies.
- Strengths Perspective Approach – focuses on students’ strengths and make them feel valued and wanted. Show the students empathy rather than sympathy.
- Resiliency Theory – aid students in heightening their resiliency by pointing out their unique characteristics.
- Asset Theory – provide resources to both students and their families. Introduce them to programs that can help their current situation, and connect them to individuals that can help in lengthy (and often confusing) processes when filing for assistance.
- Social Capital Theory – stress the importance of education by introducing students to others who have benefited from staying in school.
- Faulty Attribution Theory – students living in poverty may sometimes act out. This theory states that a teacher should withhold judgement on student behavior and attempt to find out the “why” behind their actions.
After-school programs can also be a key factor in helping students in high-poverty areas succeed. NEA Today’s article “After-School Programs Prove Key to Closing Gaps" sites a statistic the AfterSchool Alliance finding that “quality programs improve student achievement. These kids are more likely to go to school, be engaged in their regular lessons, and earn better test scores and grades.” Many schools in low-income areas struggle with funding, and, as a result, have many important classes cut from the curriculum. After-school programs can be a great way to focus on often-cut subjects like art and music. Although after-school programs can be expensive, Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College researchers found that “Each dollar invested in an at-risk child brings a return of $8.92 to $12.90.” Recruiting volunteers from the community to participate in these programs is a cost-effective method that can have a tremendous impact on students.
One important way to help students living in poverty is to make sure that they are physically healthy. Greene County Middle School makes sure that their students stay physically healthy; two nurses from the school and a social worker form strong bonds with those in the community; “they visit homes, make sure students take prescribed medications, help in a crisis, provide transportation when necessary, and sometimes just offer comfort when life is too hard.” It is critical that schools utilize community resources to help their students.
While it is essential to provide support to the students, it is also important that teachers have a support system as well. Teachers who go the extra mile to help children living in poverty often feel that their efforts are not making an improvement in students' lives. Counselors and administrators should make themselves available to teachers so that they haves someone to speak to when they feel overwhelmed.
Here are some helpful resources that can teachers and administrators can share with families living below the poverty line.
- Homeless shelter directory
- Public Housing Network website
- Soup kitchens, food banks, and food pantries by state
- Remote Area Medical website
- National School Lunch Program application information