Today, instead of featuring a specific ministry, I've chosen to share an article I recently wrote about poverty, particularly its effects on children in the school system. As the new school year approaches, many families will be under an extra burden to purchase new clothing, shoes, and school supplies, often for multiple children. There is likely a local organization in your area that does a backpack or school supply drive - think about taking part in that. Otherwise, you likely know a family or two that falls into this category, as approximately 3 out of 10 children in some parts of the country are living in poverty. Anonymously mailing the family a Walmart gift card to help with school expenses would most likely be an immeasurable blessing.
Poverty is widespread across the nation, where the number of children living in poverty varies between 15-30%. In addition to those classified as being under the poverty line, there is another group of people, the “working poor”, that tend to hover right at or around that dismal line. In a three year time span, these families will spend around two months living in poverty as well, and are continually on the verge of falling into poverty with one sickness, or car repair, or unforeseen expense.
Programs like the National School Lunch Program exist to ensure that children in poverty can receive free or reduced rate lunches at school, but children receiving this service can often be stigmatized or judged. This can create social barriers, and lead a child to spend their time in school hiding from feelings of shame and unworthiness. Conversely, these feelings could lead a child to act out, in defiance of the perceived embarrassment of receiving aid. Teachers need to be aware of what children are receiving these services, and be prepared to step in to deflect potential teasing or shaming. In additional, teachers should seek to minimize classroom related expenses. Using things like class-wide fundraisers can help ensure that all students can be part of working to raise the money, and decrease the barrier between students whose parents can pay, and those whose parents cannot. If you are a parent of a child in school, a practical way of helping is to include an extra financial contribution to the classroom. For instance, if you're sending your child to school with a required $15 for a class field trip, consider including an extra $15, with a note that it can be used toward a student who may not have the required funds.
A student whose family is in poverty due to circumstance, but who is likely to one day be out of poverty, is considered to be in situational poverty. Oftentimes this child will still have a “middle class mindset”, and will be able to use the hidden rules of the middle class to succeed academically. Poverty is more of a momentary set back than a way of life. On the other hand, a student who has only known poverty, and whose family has lived in poverty for at least two generations, is considered to be part of generational poverty. This student may be operating under a different set of hidden rules; rules that are very applicable and useful to their home life, but that will often set them up for failure in an academic or work setting. The best way to help these students is to make them aware of the hidden rules. It is alright to acknowledge that the rules and mindsets they live by DO make sense at home, or in their neighborhoods, but it is important to teach them a new set of rules that will make sense at school. It is important to offer all children respect, regardless of their home lives and actions. Children did not chose to have their parents, their financial situation, or their neighborhoods, and making them feel ashamed of who they are and where they come from will do nothing to encourage positive behavior and hope for their futures.
Positive role models in the form of teachers or other trusted adults can have a huge impact on a child’s life at this point in time. Interactions that model appropriate behavior, and relationships that make a student aware that they are seen and cared for, have been shown to increase resilience and decrease the impact of other negative behaviors that may be witnessed in the home environment. Forming a relationship with students starts with the basics – learn their names. As you talk with the students and spend time around them, make an effort to remember their likes and dislikes, and the information you learn about their families or lives outside of school. As students recognize that you care about who they are, they may also begin to seek you out to continue to strengthen that positive relationship. As an adult, you most likely interact casually with a variety of youth; perhaps the checker at your local grocery store, attending your church, or mowing your lawn. Take a moment to think of a place or time you commonly run into youth, and make a commitment to learn their name, if you don't already know, and to acknowledge them when you see them. It may seem small, but when someone is lonely or marginalized, being recognized and remembered can mean the world.
In parting, think about this: the most predictable indicator of a child's success in school and life is the positive presence and relationship of one adult who cares about them. Whose one will you be?
Those interested in learning more about poverty and its affects should check out Dr. Ruby Paynes book "A Framework for Understanding Poverty", available on Amazon or from any major bookseller.h
© 2020 El-Inkwell.