Trumping Childhood Poverty (Part 1)

I never watch morning TV. If I did, I would never get to work on time. I can become completely mesmerized by TV, and lose track of time–my mother called it that “slack-jawed” effect. So, I never do anything more than check the Weather Channel’s “On the Eights” every once in a while.

However, Delaware’s Gov. Markell was on Morning Joe earlier this year talking about public education. So, I tuned in. The segment with the Gov. was fine, but I happened to stick around for the following segment–see what I mean–which featured some woman from some charter school program in New York, AND one of my heroes, Randi Weingarten, President of AFT.

In the midst of the back and forth between the two women, and while I was trying to brush my teeth and listen in at the same time, I overheard Randi talking about the impact of childhood poverty on our kids, their learning, and consequently, our sucess in the classroom. This is a topic that I regularly speak about and occasionally write about. Then, she put into very simple and straight-forward words what I had been thinking about for a good long time. She said that it had become “our responsibility to TRUMP CHILDHOOD POVERTY.”

Voila! That’s it. The need to trump childhood poverty–to get the better of it.  And, this is a nifty phrase to convey the call to action.

We cannot end poverty. We cannot realistically reduce childhood poverty. However, Randi, and others, believe that it is high time that WE–those of us who are intimately involved in public education–do whatever is possible and practical to overcome the immediate impact of childhood poverty on our students–one by one.

Sam is hungry? Feed him. Maria can’t see the board? Arrange for an eye exam and glasses. Jamal is cold or his shoes from last year pinch painfully? Get him a winter jacket and a new pair of shoes. Lee doesn’t come to school when he has no clean clothes to wear? Keep spare clean clothes at school, and be preapred to wash the other clothing. Lorraine has no easy way to bathe and stay clean at home? Let her use the shower in the gym when she needs to. Half of the class cannot afford to buy what the teacher asks for and what the other kids all have? Get them the pencils, the notebooks, the paper, and the dividers.

If we cannot make this happen, then who will? These are factors that can keep some kids from learning: serious hunger; long-term fatigue; lack of needed medical and dental care; improper clothing; the embarrassment of poor personal hygiene. The list goes on and on. Some of these gestures cost money; others take time and coordination. They all require recognition–seeing a situation for what it is–and understanding.

I was reminded of this message–trumping childhood poverty–when I came across this great idea featured in Education Week Teacher–an on-line compendium of interesting articles.

It is unimaginable to many of us, but, some poor people–really poor people–may not have much paper in their lives: few books, magazines, or newspapers; not much mail; little paper for writing or art projects. So, kids from poor families may not have what my kids had in abundance: drawing paper, lined paper, note paper, post-its, hard-back and paperback books, monthly magazines, stacks of newspapers, etc.

We already know that access to adults who read, to read-aloud sessions at home, and to the books themselves are important factors in the development of pre-reading skills in young children and to school-aged actually learning to read, and then to hone their reading skills and capabilities.

If poor kids have limited access to books at home, then, is this something that needs to be trumped? Does this qualify? Is this a serious need that deserves our attention?

Apparently someone thinks that it does. Thank you, Justin Minkel. Minkel is a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher in northwest Arkansas, the 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, a 2011 National Board-certified teacher, and a member of the Teacher Leaders Network. And, Justin saw the need, knew that the need was real, that the need was great, and that there was a way to do something to help trump this particular student necessity.

The Home Library Effect: Transforming At-Risk Readers lays it all out there. Wow. I have such admiration for this man. Such a basic problem, and such a simple solution. I am motivated to see what is happening here in Delaware to provide good books for kids to call their own.

This little anecdote says it all: “When I expressed surprise at how much progress Melinda had made since the last time I’d done the DRA (a reading progress assessment) with her, she said, “Well, you know those books you gave me? Now when my mom and my little sister are watching TV, they say, ‘Melinda, read to us!’ So we turn off the T.V., and I do. This courageous 7-year-old girl has become the one literate person in her family, and her ability to read has changed the fabric of her family’s evenings.”

Minkel finishes with this observation: “This is my newest addition to that list of simple truths: To help kids develop a love of reading, put great books in their hands. Then watch in amazement as their worlds change.”

This entry was posted in A Good Education, Accountability, Education Professionals, Education Transformation, Literacy, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, Student Success, Teachers and Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Trumping Childhood Poverty (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Childhood Poverty Can Be Bad for Kids | Does Experience Count?

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