Experiencing Poverty Teaches About the Struggles of Low-Income Families

September 1, 2015

Many school districts have seen a sharp spike in poverty rates in their student populations in recent years. With the growing number of low-income students has come new challenges for

educators working in schools, as well as a need to find creative solutions to this growing problem.


To address this growing crisis, CASDA and the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center held an event on July 28 called “Experiencing Poverty”. During the event 50 school personnel from around the Capital Region experienced poverty in a simulation designed to highlight a variety of problems faced by our students and parents.


Each participant assumed the role of a low-income family member living on a limited budget and interacted with volunteers playing the role of service agency providers with whom

low-income people would interact with on a regular basis. The participants could find themselves playing an adult or a child as young as seven during the simulation. Each family received a bag with name tags with their ages, money and cards representing material possessions. They also received a brief description of their family's circumstances with scenarios including including an incarcerated parent, kids living with grandparents, family members with drug problems, or caregivers who are out-of-work and receiving limited government assistance.


Once participants understood their roles they set out in a simulated week interacting with service providers set up around the perimeter of the room. These stations including services and institutions like the supermarket, bank, general employment, social services, school, and even a pawn shop and police station.


Participants needed a “transportation pass” to visit any vendor and they were in limited supply. Many participants showed frustration and even anxiety while trying to accomplish a certain amount of business to be done during each 15 minute day of the simulated week.


At the simulation's conclusion, participants admitted how daunting it was to try to accomplish daily business including getting the kids of the family to school. Participants who could not make ends meet were experienced foreclosures on their homes or were evicted from their homes for not paying rent; utilities were shut off and cars repossessed.

The goal of the simulation was to help participants learn to build self-efficacy in high needs students. In order to do that effectively they must identify with the circumstances these children face outside of school. Many participants left the simulation saying they had a new appreciation for some of the hardships their district's poorest students are facing.


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