Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What You Don't Know About Poverty...

Could dramatically affect the teaching and learning in your classrooms. That was just one of many powerful messages presented today by Dr. Donna Beegle at AWSP's 2008 Assistant Principals' Leadership Conference in Vancouver. Beegle's personal history (she's one of five children, and the only member of her family who has not been incarcerated) makes her analysis of poverty and its affects on students and educators so compelling.

In her remarks, Beegle emphasized the importance of understanding basic facts about poverty and the value in educators really knowing their students--that element of personalization. She shared traits of the various kinds of poverty -- generational, immigrant, working class--that all bring different language, culture and values to the table. And she underscored the critical importance of helping all students in poverty understand the language of school, to help them understand why what they do in class is of value to them as individuals, as citizens.

"If I don't know why I'm in school, how can it be important?" Beegle said. "Imagine how the world of poverty affects what you pay attention to...Tell your students why education matters and show them that people who do jobs [that require education] are like them."

Beegle's presentation provided an eye-opening glimpse at a world many teachers or school staff neither know nor understand, and provided many practical tips on how schools with high poverty populations can engage students, parents and families. Examples:
  • Hold focus groups with parents to find out the best ways to communicate with them or engage them in school conferences and events.
  • When conferences are held, offer meals and/or child care to entice family participation
  • Work with community service groups and local stores to donate money, services or vouchers to offset these costs
"If we don't know the situation [students come from], we tend to exacerbate the problem. you have to know your communities," said Beegle. "Solutions have to come from within your building."

Some random facts about poverty Beegle dropped into her presentation:
  • 350 households are disconnected from water service for payment failures every day in Portland (where Beegle calls home). What's the number for your community?
  • About two-thirds of people in poverty work 1.7 jobs, per the U.S. Census (per Beegle) How many jobs are your parents working to make ends meet?
  • The average reading level of today's prison inmate? 8th grade.
  • There is a five-year wait for housing in the U.S.
  • It costs about $30,000/year to house one inmate in prison
  • Do you know the minimum wage in Washington state? $8.07/hour

No comments: