First of all, I want to be clear that I understand poverty crosses over into many, many lives. I live in an affluent town. A town with a food pantry that is routinely emptied. People in this town are foreclosed upon, bankrupt, lose homes to tax liens.
But what I know is the environment in which I work. Last week we had to serve lunch in the classroom because the cafe-gym-atorium was being used for a play. I had 22 students in attendance that day. Twenty-one qualified for free lunch. One child qualified for reduced lunch. Zero pay full cost. What’s the poverty percentage for that 21 of 22? Ninety-five percent. If you’ve never seen the income requirements for free and reduced lunch click here.
Poverty and the trauma that results in families is a complicated thing. I am not an expert, I am an observer. And from what I observe some very vulnerable beings, 9 year olds, thrive – or try to thrive – under some very appalling conditions.
Ruby Payne has written an exemplary book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. I read it over and over to try to get a handle on the cultural differences, the hidden rules of poverty, of the middle-class, of wealthy people. Each time I do, I uncover something more to think about, some way I can be more effective, more understanding of the challenges facing my students – 95 percent of whom are well below the poverty level.
It is a book I recommend to educational colleagues. Understanding is power.