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Jonah Edelman, the co-founder and CEO of educational advocacy organization Stand for Children, stated that “The impact of poverty on a child’s academic achievement is significant and starts early”. Children growing up in poverty face challenges in cognitive and literary ability and are often academically and socioeconomically behind their fellow higher-income peers. A child’s preparation for school reflects on their ability to succeed both academically and socially in a school environment. It requires physical and emotional health, a positive approach to new experiences, and age-appropriate social, language, and cognitive skills. It is known that poverty decreases a child’s readiness for school through aspects of health, home life, and schooling. However, it is possible to help children overcome the burden of poverty on their education. With the help of parents and teachers, people will be able to help children in poverty prosper, perhaps even to a level that counteracts their higher-income peers.
Income inequality in the United States and elsewhere continues to expand the educational achievement gap between higher-income and lower-income children. A report in a scientific article written by HB Ferguson concluded that children from lower income households score significantly lower with vocabulary and communication skills, knowledge of numbers and symbols and how to use them, and the ability to concentrate and cooperatively play with other children compared to children from higher income households. This is in fact due to how well a child is prepared for school before they enter kindergarten or even preschool. Families with higher incomes have more resources, in terms of time and money, to better prepare their children to succeed in school and life in general. Surveys show that the amount of money and time parents invest in their child’s education has grown sharply, whether the parents have a higher-income or not. When my grandma went to school in India, her parents did not even consider education important. In fact, they pulled her out of school in 3rd grade so she could focus on cooking, cleaning, and other household activities. Once she had a basic understanding of these tasks, she was then married off and became a housewife. Compared to my educational journey, there is a significant difference in how parents perceive education now, which contributes to the significant increase in time and money investment. However, the increase in investment has been more prominent in higher income families. Economists Richard Murnane of Harvard University and Greg Duncan at the University of California-Irvine found that between 1972 and 2006 the amount high-income families spent on their children’s activities grew by 150 percent, while the amount spent by low-income families grew only 57 percent. From these results, it can be determined that parents are spending more on their kids because they understand that educational success is increasingly crucial in order to better the future economy. However, low- and middle-income families can’t match the time and money put in by their richer counterparts.
While income is certainly a major factor in a child’s education, children are also affected by community characteristics and their social network. Often, poverty comes partnered with other stressors, like drug and alcohol abuse. Living in poverty creates extraordinary amounts of stress, resentment and anger. These stressors can then evolve into violence and physical abuse. It is reported that children raised in these circumstances are at high risk for mistreatments such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. In return, this increases the chances for these children to develop mental issues growing up. Many families that live in poverty often consist of a single parent. Within generational poverty, these single parents are increasingly likely to have little to no prenatal care, low birth rates, poor nutrition, and non-existent aftercare after birth. Often times these low parenting skills are a result of not being able to provide a sufficient income to meet child care needs or detached priorities, like when parents spend more time and money on drugs and alcohol. As a result, children are physically and emotionally neglected. Additionally, the psychological stress of unemployment or lack of sufficient income on parents can also lead to abrasive parenting. Parents under the distress of poverty demonstrate less nurturing, reduced genuine concern for healthy development, and little academic modeling. Often the lack of employment or the efforts to seek employment increases the chances for family problems, creating stressful transitions for children. These stressors cause parents to neglect the mental, emotional and educational needs of their children. The effects of neglectful and inadequate parenting due to poverty can cause teenage delinquency, along with insufficient and incomplete education.
Research shows that the stress of low financial status can lead to psychological problems, which include anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues . Moreover, students coping with poverty face deep humiliation and embarrassment when their appearance, clothing, and personal hygiene are not the same as their classmates. As a result, children in poverty suffer through extreme low self-esteem and self-efficacy. This can lead to frustration, angst and insecurity when it comes to education, which can then lead to behaviors that are misinterpreted as apathy. Teachers, without even thinking, give up on children because of this misperceived unwillingness to learn. Because of this, children in poverty are forced to deal with their environmental upbringing and unjust social bias, along with keeping up with their higher-income classmates.
Poverty comes with health issues that often restrict children from effectively receiving the education they should. Positive nutritional habits are crucial for young developing minds and bodies. Malnutrition can be seriously affect cognition, memory development and language aptitude. In the United States, the amount of impoverished children that are malnourished is significantly large. Studies estimating that around 12 million American children consume diets well below nutritional recommended allowances. Malnutrition exposes a storm of potential limitations for these children, as research shows that lack of important nutrition can have detrimental effects on the developing brain, and can also lead to learning disabilities and behavior disorders. Although the United States spends billions providing public assistance and free public education, much of this money doesn’t make much of a difference or is often wasted if a child is not able to academically succeed due to malnutrition.
Teachers can play a crucial role in helping impoverished students break the cycle of generational poverty, promoting the educational success of each and every student. Schools, teachers, and administrators are often held responsible for the achievement of all their students. The drive to provide a meaningful education to each and every student creates pressure for teachers to understand their students; more specifically the students that are potentially going to fail. Studies suggest that efforts made by teachers can have a profound difference in creating a positive experience in the educational journey of an impoverished student. According to a survey I conducted in class, around 83% of my classmates agreed that in order to ensure a child receives a quality education, they should have a supportive environment. In other words, they should be surrounded by teachers and peers who have the motivation to teach and learn. In order for this to occur, teachers should be prepared with the knowledge enabling them to recognize the subtle and often misunderstood manifestations of poverty among students. They should understand that students that are withdrawn from their education are not necessarily displaying apathy towards education. Teachers should be trained to have patience and should be able to understand the needs of all the different students in their classrooms. A teacher can also determine whether a student needs help by observing peer to peer interactions. Because an impoverished student may not be fully exposed to or lack personal hygiene, it is often their classmates who become hyper aware of the differences. Peer to peer interaction in this scenario can often transform into bullying or taunting. Because these students may not be accustomed to these concerns, the teacher should be able to instruct the student in a respectful and accommodating manner .
For teachers to be fully prepared for the challenges they may face in their classroom, they must become familiar with the resources that contain important information about the students in their classroom. Counselors, administrators and seasoned teachers are all appropriate resources for retrieving information about students who could potentially fail. Additionally, to promote the academic success for the economically disadvantaged students in their classrooms, teachers must be aware of effective teaching methods. Examples of those include maintaining high educational and behavioral standards for all students as well as recognizing that apathy can mask insecurity for a low-income student. Teachers should also promote significant relationships by taking an interest in each student. Strong familial relationships impact children significantly and the impact of these relationships, or the impact of not having one, transfers to the classrooms.
However, the teacher can not be the only one held accountable for helping impoverished children. Parents also can play a huge role in encouraging educational success. It has been noticed that there is an increase in academic achievement for children whose parents are involved in their education. It has also noticed that parental involvement is most effective when viewed as a partnership between teachers and parents. If teachers and parents communicate and express their thoughts on the child’s education, they should have a better understanding of effective parental involvement practices that in return will promote their child’s achievements.
Poverty continues to be a significant challenge for children who grow up within its confines. As a result, the devastating path of generational poverty often leads to the failure of families and schools in steering children to become responsible, capable and constructive contributors to society. However, with family and teacher support, children should be able to battle their circumstances and power through, breaking the cycle of generational poverty and becoming successful in school, and later on in life as well.
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