Part 1: Teaching Students in Poverty: What is Poverty?

I recently gave a webinar for SimpleK12 on teaching students who are living in poverty. At the Milton Hershey School, 100% of our kids come from impoverished situations. In fact, as of 2011 it is estimated that the number of Americans living in poverty is approximately 46.4 million. Over the next few blog posts, I would like to stray from my normal educational technology posts to explore strategies for dealing with students facing poverty. Today we will focus on what poverty really is.

We see the effects it has on kids each day:
  • A lack of motivation
  • Cognitive lags
  • Chronic tardiness
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • High transience rates 
Do we truly understand what it is? Ruby Payne defines poverty as“the extent to which an individual does without resources.” Many of us attribute poverty to a lack of money, but it  is more than a lack of income. 

In fact, many experts, like Ruby Payne and Eric Jensen, state that there are at least 6 different types of poverty facing our students today: 
  • Poverty can be situational, where a sudden crisis emerges (health issue, job loss, divorce). 
  • Generational, occurs where 2 or more generations of a family are living in poverty. They are often not equipped with the tools like education and finances to move out of this type of situation
  • Absolute is rare in this country, but does occur in many parts of Appalachia. Families face the struggle of day to day survival, often struggling to find shelter, food, and running water.
  • Relative refers to the economic status of a family who meets the poverty thresholds set by the government.
  • Urban poverty occurs in areas of 50k or more. Individuals facing urban poverty deal with stressors (violence, crowding, noise) and are often left to rely on often inadequate large-city services.
  • Rural poverty occurs in areas of less than 50k. It is the fastest growing type of poverty in our nation right now. Families experiencing rural poverty often do not have access to quality resources and support for disabilities.
The fact is that we cannot control that our students come from poverty; however, we can control what happens within the four walls of our classroom. Our next post will focus on actual strategies that teachers can use to connect with students and increase learning. 


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