Facing Childhood Poverty in the Classroom

Laura Stelsel is director of marketing and communications at Kappa Delta Pi.School on Wheels postcard

Last week, KDP staff members attended a panel hosted by School on Wheels Indianapolis.The event, titled Beyond the Headlines: Be the Solution to Education Barriers, featured classroom educators, administrators, policy makers, physicians and social workers who have witnessed the impact of poverty and homelessness on school-aged children.

The panel tackled issues that I, as someone who has limited firsthand experience with childhood poverty, hadn’t considered, like:

  • The issue of identifying hidden homeless, those who camouflage themselves as to appear not homeless (high-school aged kids are especially savvy at this), or working homeless, those who are underemployed;
  • The physical health impact of shelter life on children —“toxic stress,” combined with improper nutrition and lack of personal space. Those factors can cause physical differences, like stunted height and weight, and even language delays; and
  • The emotional impact that the stress of keeping the secret of poverty can have on youth. It can cause anxiety, low self-esteem, and an unwillingness to connect with others, since their life is always in transition.

School on Wheels panelDustin Eckert, a local elementary school teacher on the panel, said that honesty and openness is key in building trust with families, and that support can really impact student success. If a family is comfortable, he makes home visits before and during the school year to develop personal relationships, and if a home visit isn’t an option, he schedules regular phone calls. He said it is important to never use poverty as an excuse to lower standards for the child, or they might, too. He shows parents that he is committed to being the difference maker in their child’s life.

It made me wonder, how else can educators, and I as a member of the community, support these youths and their families?

The panel had some fantastic recommendations

  • Ask, “How can I help?” Listen, understand their challenges, and be prepared with resources;
  • Educate yourself and become a community advocate;
  • Realize that legislators, even local school boards, can’t be experts on everything and they WANT to hear from you. Share the facts with them and let them know that this is an important issue.
  • Volunteer! Help teachers—they need it;
  • Work to prevent homelessness. If you see someone who needs help, help them, whether it be struggles with addiction, mental health resources, or just providing food and financial resources to support them; and, perhaps most importantly;
  • Start the conversation.

How about you? Does your school educate you on approaching or dealing with homeless issues? In your experience, what else can people do to support children in poverty situations?

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