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Government, Politics & Issues

PIN perspectives on how poverty affects achievement

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 3, 2013: For this school year, students from two St. Louis-area districts are traveling far away from their homes. That's because their home districts — Normandy and Riverview Gardens — have lost their accreditation from the state of Missouri, and by law, any students who live within those districts are allowed to transfer to better performing districts.

One factor the two districts have in common is a high proportion of students who receive free or reduced-fee lunches, which is an indicator of poverty. With that in mind, the Beacon asked, through our Public Insight Network, for people to share their perspective on what affect poverty has on student achievement. Here are examples of what some of them shared:

Jane Ann Sykes, St. Louis, a school nurse

What is the link between poverty and academic achievement?

It is very strong. How can mothers help their children learn when they are so very young and so uneducated themselves?

What can schools do to overcome academic challenges that students from low-income families have? 

Early childhood education is the best way, plus some parental education.

Renee Rancette, St. Louis, assistant principal at Gateway STEM High School, St. Louis Public Schools

What is the link between poverty and academic achievement?

While some students are able to rise out of poverty and achieve great things academically, that is not the norm for all students living in poverty.

As a classroom teacher, I had students with a range of issues that impeded their ability to learn chemistry. Whether it was constant hunger, untreated illness, chronic stress from an incident the night or weekend before, there were many barriers my students faced daily that impacted their ability to learn at their highest potential. I would actually let one of my students wear my glasses when we worked problems on the board because he would get so frustrated at having to squint all the time.

What can schools do to overcome academic challenges that students from low-income families have? 

Schools must be deliberate in strategically organizing the available community resources to support the families they serve. They must network among organizations and work alongside families to ensure they are maximizing the support in the community.

We must also constantly advocate for their students in the surrounding community, telling everyone who will listen of the amazing potential found in students coming from poverty so that our children are not forgotten.

We must offer robust after-school programming, from academic to athletic to enrichment-focused programs that give our children ways to get involved. 

We must partner with our families and parents and work alongside, not in opposition to them, in this daunting task.

Poverty is not one's destiny.

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