Teachers Are Moved by the Challenges of Poverty

Jenison Families and Staff:  Welcome to the 2014 – 2015 school year!  We truly hope you had an enjoyable summer and trust that you have returned to school with excitement for what the year will bring!  Please visit this blog each Thursday for news you can celebrate at Jenison Public Schools!

Last week, High School and Junior High teachers took a break from setting up their classrooms and preparing their first lessons to do some real-life learning of their own.  Through the guidance and expertise of Access of West Michigan, teachers and administrators checked their own identities at the door and took on roles within families struggling with poverty.  Access provided the identities, family roles, monthly expenses required, monthly income and a few [extra] challenges along the way to help make the most of this two hour simulation.

Jenison High School teachers learn their new identities and discuss their plan for the month.

Jenison High School teachers learn their new identities and discuss their plan for the month.


During the simulation, each family [which could consist of 1 – 4+ people including seniors raising children, widow[ers], single parent homes and blended families] had the same goals for their month in poverty:
* Keep the shelter secure                     * Buy required amount of food each week
* Keep their utilities on                        * Make loan payments
* Pay for clothing & misc expenses      * Respond appropriately to unexpected situations that arise
* Care for their family members

Based on their circumstances, and in order to meet the above goals, the groups were asked to visit area resources just as a family in poverty in West Michigan might do:  the Food Pantry, Employment Office, health clinic, pawn shop, grocery store, Department of Human Services [DHS], utilities office, Quick Cash store and, one of the most important stops, the transportation office for bus passes.  The exercise simulated one month in poverty and each week lasted 15 minutes.

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Brenda Dalecke, Poverty Education Coordinator at Access, says there are 50.1 million people in poverty nationwide which includes 16.9 million children and Access provides food pantry resources as well as emergency assistance through the connections and partnerships of over 200 area churches to those in West Michigan for which this life is their reality.

Access provides this training to a variety of groups including corporations and political groups as well.  But for our Jenison teachers it meant much more than professional development.  Judy Williams, Junior High Counselor shared this about her experience:

“As educators, we all know how to “do” school exceptionally well.  Whether as parents, professional educators or students, we understand what is necessary for success in school..  The Poverty Simulation provided an eye opening and perspective changing experience for our staff.  We gained an appreciation for how stressful, time consuming and emotionally draining it can be to live with limited resources.  Our time was spent  seeking reliable transportation, attempting to put food on the table and maybe paying our bills.

We were shocked to realize that we had spent no quality time with our children, whether it be reading to our preschoolers or supervising teens.

This experience deeply affected our staff. We now understand why working a second or third part time job may take precedence over attending a school function or signing a planner. As a result, our teachers are ready to meet the new school year with renewed passion to build compassionate relationships with our parents and students as we all seek to provide a world class education for every student.”

Materials needed for the month.

Materials needed for the month.

Abram Brosseit, High School Social Studies teacher, added:

“Prior to the simulation I had an intellectual grasp on some of the issues that under resourced families deal with on a daily basis.  However, the simulation itself moved me beyond general ideas towards a more intricate understanding of these issues.  The poverty simulation helped me recognize that the numerous challenges faced by under resourced families amount to complexities that can be paralyzing.  A paralysis that can be at once mental, emotional, physical, and financial.

Each week in the simulation felt like a game of chess in which one wrong move was a guaranteed check mate.  It caused me to become impatient waiting in long lines and frustrated by the devastating cost of small mistakes. The challenges my group faced in the simulation were such that there was no single solution that would have made our situation entirely better.  However, some recognition on the part of others about the reality of our circumstances could have gone along way.  As a teacher I realize that I alone will not be able to single-handedly change everything in the life of an under resourced student.

Yet, the simulation helped me understand that I can play a major part by helping that student find the courage to work towards a more promising future and knowing that it is attainable. As a teacher I must continue to create a classroom culture where the dignity of each individual validated on a daily basis.  As a member of my community I need to further my commitment to help others in ways that I can. While my contributions may seem small on their own, when combined with the efforts of others, they really do add up.”

Thank you, Access of West Michigan for bringing this difficult reality into perspective for our teams.  We know it will make a difference as we work alongside each student and family this school year.

“[The] poverty simulation was one of the most significant professional development opportunities that I have had a chance to experience.”
– Mr. Brosseit

A stop at DHS with the caseworker.

A stop at DHS with the caseworker.

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A two-person family discusses their situation.

7 comments on “Teachers Are Moved by the Challenges of Poverty

  1. This is a great activity to help educators become more compassionate and understanding regarding the struggles of daily survival in some of their students’

  2. Great Job JPS. It is hard to put yourself in the shoes of others and really understand the struggles families face whether it is poverty or some other thing such as disease, disability etc… Time very well spent!

    • Thank you Heidi! We’re so thankful that our teachers and staff are so willing to open themselves up to this and other challenging experiences with students and families. Jenison is better because of it!

  3. This is a wonderful eye opening resource program for teachers. I did not see the Compassionate Community Network or the Back Pack Program mentioned. It is an organization where food is purchased, packed and delivered to elementary schools twice monthly by volunteers so that students will have SOMETHING to eat on the week ends. Another wonderful program for helping resource challenged school children. Most communities have this available.

  4. Pingback: Experience the Power of Positive Words | Central Office Sentinel

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