School readiness: More than backpacks full of school supplies and clothes

Parents, schools and communities can work together to help move students and families out of poverty.

Schools will be in session soon and parents, teachers and administrators are gearing up for another school year. Administrators and school boards work hard to develop policies that help create a safe and educational environment that will promote literacy and learning for all students. Michigan State University Extension says that students coming from generational poverty need more than a back pack full of school supplies and clothes. According to Donna Beegle, schools, with the help of parents and the community need to ensure the following to help all students succeed:

  • Show and tell students that they are special.
  • Make extra efforts to ensure understanding of the material being covered.
  • Ensure that the school and classrooms are safe, both emotionally and physically.
  • Address social class as part of the curriculum and fight classism.
  • Examine your own attitude, beliefs and values related to people from generational poverty.
  • Examine the school culture and leadership attitudes, beliefs and values related to generational poverty.
  • Connect students with a mentor who is sensitive to the realities of poverty and understand how to help them through the educational system.
  • Build a system of support. Who else in the community is working to address poverty issues that students and families can use as resources?
  • Educate students and other school staff about the two distinct styles of communication: Written and oral. Students from generational poverty tend to have characteristics of oral culture.
  • Understand that meanings are in people, not words. Meanings are created by the context in which we grow up. Education generally has negative meanings for students and families living in generational poverty. Work to create a new definition of education that involves positive school experiences for both student and families.
  • Think through incentives and motivators. Are they based on middle-class frames of reference?
  • Rethink homework assignments. Homework is a middleclass construct that does not fit well in the world of generational poverty. Keep in mind that learning for students living in generational poverty is going to happen primarily during the school day.
  • Expose students to a variety of educated professionals.
  • Suspend judgment of parent/guardian behavior. Express appreciation of parenting efforts, even if efforts are not what you might expect.

Remember, students and parents living in generational poverty are living in “survival mode.” Parents and guardians from generational poverty have bought into the American myth that if you work hard, you will move up, even though their lives are in direct contrast to this. Do not ask parents to do what they do not have the emotional, educational or financial resources to do. Parental involvement happens when schools and teachers build relationships and create a welcoming climate that accepts people where they are.

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