Poverty and Education - Some Things to Consider

Last Updated: 7/9/2018 9:52 PM

During the last few years while our whole nation has been going through a severe economic squeeze, there has been fallout from it that affects schools across the country in ways that have not been publicized so much—to wit:

  • The number and rate of children in poverty in schools across the country, and especially in the south and west has increased markedly. We see this in our own community as well.
  • New data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that public schools are now enrolling a record number of homeless children and youth. Additionally, a majority of students in public schools throughout the American West are poor for the first time in modern history.
  • The number of homeless students counted in our schools nationally has jumped over 72% since before the recession, and it is known that the absolute figures are even higher. We know of at least 116 homeless students attending our schools in North Mason
  • Schools are not to blame for the problem of poverty.  Liability rests with our entire society, and is a problem in which we are all implicated.

Still, education can play a powerful role in helping students to overcome poverty and its various manifestations both while they are in school and over the rest of their lives. For many people the effects of living in poverty become a state of mind as well as a state of being, and for children who live with and know only poverty, this becomes a recurring way of life over generations. Schools can help break this cycle over time by:

  • Exposing children to career-advancing skills.
  • Exploring the full range of potential interests and pursuits of ALL students.
  • Affording time and resources to discover what ALL students care for and what they are good at.
  • Supporting creative thinking and creative action by ALL students.

But, things are not so simple. While children are in school, other effects of poverty work against our schools so that the above positive attributes that can change a student’s state of mind about self and potential will not succeed. Schools can do some things about this as well, such as:

  • Making sure healthy regular meals get to ALL students (including free and reduced meals for those who aren’t able to bring/buy their own)
  • Providing a safe environment for ALL students in the school setting (including working with children on anti-bullying, and other issues to reduce conflict and strife between and among students)
  • Providing opportunities to students to develop their own caring and ethical attitudes towards everyone else in society (such as having community service clubs for students, school pride and satisfaction events, and the like).
  • Providing frequent and meaningful field trips to ALL students without regard to ability to pay for such trips (research has consistently shown that exposing children to more and varied experiences while young has a positive correlation with traditional IQ scores).
  • Providing all-day kindergarten to ALL families in a community.

While there is much more that can be said about the above, what I wish to point out here specifically is that the North Mason School District is very aware of the national trends in poverty and very aware of how schools can work with ALL students to best counter the pervasive effects of poverty on all our children. It is a poorly understood truism that when one person is in poverty, everyone around that person is affected—this is true of all communities and schools as well. When we ignore the effects of poverty on some, it is to the detriment of ALL.

  --Art Wightman

Director, District 1

North Mason School District