Kevin Chavous, Executive Counsel for the American Federation of children believes kids in poverty can still learn. He writes:
“During slavery, under some of the worse conditions known to man, slaves taught their kids to read by candlelight under the threat of death. And those kids learned.
On the heels of the great depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s new deal invigorated educational opportunities for poor white kids in places like Appalachia. And those kids learned.
Following the Vietnam War, thousands of Vietnamese refugees came to our nation. The vast majority of those children came to America unable to speak English and often lived with several families under one roof. And those kids learned.
In California, folks like Cesar Chavez fought for better working conditions for Latino migrant workers. While those families struggled to make ends meet, many strived to put their children in schools that would meet their needs. And those kids learned.
Throughout the history of our country, the unifying promise of America has been the hope for a better life for one’s children through education. Especially those children trapped in poverty. At every turn in our history, kids in poverty have demonstrated their ability to learn and succeed.”
What can be done to bridge the gap between generations that have lived in poverty and a hope for children to live without knowing poverty in the future? The answer begins with effective educators who will not settle for being an average school that is just good enough, who will not accept excuses for why “these” children can’t learn, who are willing to do whatever it takes to help each child be successful, who create supportive environments for children to learn in regardless of life’s circumstances.
Like educators, parents are advocates for their child’s learning regardless of socio-economic status. Low-income parents hold the same attitudes about education that wealthy parents do (Compton-Lilly, 2003; Lareau & Horvat, 1999; Leichter, 1978). Low-income parents are less likely to attend school functions or volunteer in their children’s classrooms (National Center for Education Statistics, 2005)—not because they care less about education, but because they have less access to school involvement than their wealthier peers. Parents living in poverty are more likely to work multiple jobs, to work evenings, to have jobs without paid leave, and are unable to afford childcare. Schools that fail to take these considerations into account need to do more to involve these families.
Still, some Mineral Pointers believe that low-socioeconomic status translates to low educational outcomes. This is far from the truth, and those who believe otherwise serve to limit what a child can accomplish. Children who come from generations of poverty still have hopes, dreams, and want to achieve at high levels. Children of poverty want to be somebody. However poverty does not mean a person is unable to succeed. Children who live in poverty meet high expectations and standards when taught by effective educators. It is only when we as a community, and as educators, understand and embrace high expectations and standards for all students as the only way to educate our youth that outcomes for children who live in poverty will change.
We don’t have an achievement gap in Mineral Point – we have an opportunity gap. All kids can learn. But all kids cannot learn in the same way. It is important for us as educators to meet these kids where they are and utilize the best approaches to meet their needs. There are many Mineral Point teachers who have worked their magic with kids who come from the most challenged environments imaginable with amazing successes. Let’s not use poverty as the reason why some kids can’t learn. Mineral Point has leveraged many resources to ensure that an excellent teacher is in each classroom of every low-income child. I am excited to see continued growth over the past three years and look forward to what happens next. In the interim, once and for all, let’s stop talking about poverty as though it is a barrier.