By Sharon Scranage
Students receive their final report cards for the school year in June. The level of anticipation is always intense as they wonder: Did I get that A, that B, that C? In short, did I pass? The level of anticipation is no different for teachers and school administrators at the beginning of a new school year—that’s the point at which they determine whether they have passed or failed in their attempt to educate their pupils.
Books and workbooks are provided to students to help them achieve passing grades in their core subjects. Teachers instruct from the “core” academic curricula adopted by their districts. Through No Child Left Behind, states and districts that have school sites in underprivileged areas also grade these sites on whether or not they meet the needs of their socioeconomically disadvantaged students; however, there are no specific strategies provided in the regular “core” curriculum to address the special challenges faced by these pupils. How can teachers and school personnel “make the grade” without a workable curriculum?
School districts that have attempted to train teachers in meeting the needs of students from poverty have focused primarily on issues of race and/or language competencies. In many states, there are certifications teachers must attain, which focus on cross-cultural language acquisition and design. While updated training and information in ELD (English language development) and cultural diversity are pertinent, diversity may not reside only in language levels and race; other factors also weigh heavily in determining the present and future productivity of our students nationwide.
A form of cultural diversity which is often alluded to but rarely addressed in school systems is the diversity that exists within different socioeconomic class systems. Many of our “at risk” students stem from “generational poverty”—a culture in and of itself. Former teacher and administrator Dr. Ruby K. Payne, author of “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” has identified specific characteristics exhibited by families that have endured several generations of poverty. The fates of these students depend upon the resources and relationships available to them. A teacher who understands the needs of students from a poverty culture can better address barriers to learning and provide the tools needed to exist within other class systems. This, in turn, would increase each child’s ability to move out of poverty and into a more productive and lucrative socioeconomic culture.
Strategies and programs that address the needs of impoverished students exist, yet our school systems tend to ignore these options in favor of quick fixes. Unless impoverished students can understand and work within an unfamiliar class system, they may not understand the value of the academic subjects they are taught or, once proficient in these subjects, understand how to apply them to a middle-class work force or to the pursuit of higher education.
It is generally acknowledged that schools in economically disadvantaged areas face unique challenges; however, acknowledgement alone will not result in real progress.
In order to formulate a successful curriculum for students of generational poverty, we need to ask some pertinent questions: What are the needs of students from generational poverty? Once the needs are identified, how are educators going to meet the needs of students from generational poverty in order to provide educational equity? And finally, how can we effectively measure the progress of these students as it relates to their ability to access and utilize the information needed to rise to another socioeconomic class system? These questions must be answered before we can effectively teach disenfranchised students.
Until we provide teachers and administrators with the strategic tools to help our students out of poverty, our public schools will continue to provide an education that gives little advantage to our poor and unwittingly sustains an overall system of institutional inequity.