The stress of growing up in a poor and unstable household affects children as young as 9 years old on a genetic level, shortening a portion of their chromosomes that scientists say is a key indicator of aging and illness, according to a study released Monday. The researchers say their findings are the first that document this type of genetic change among minority children, and make a strong case for the importance of early-childhood intervention in vulnerable communities.
Researchers examined the DNA of a small group of 9-year-old African-American boys who had experienced chronic stress as a result of growing up in families with poor socioeconomic status. They found that the boys’ telomeres were shorter than those of boys the same age and ethnicity who came from advantaged families.
What works? It’s not simple. It’s not just more money. Or more choice. Or more tests. Or more organizational innovation. None of those options has succeeded because none has focused on improving instruction in high-poverty schools and developing a successful approach for students to master critical skills.
As a high school junior told me not long ago, “The kids that can’t afford it, they don’t even want to go to college.” And from what I’ve seen, the teens who don’t want to go to college don’t want to go to high school either. They are less apt to work and behave, less apt to attend school and graduate.
Simply put, the lack of motivation and its attendant deficits are often rooted in poverty. Of course, it should be just the opposite: Poverty should motivate students. Education was the way out of poverty for my family. Without focusing on poverty, we need to get this message out to students: Education opens the door to future possibilities. We must also look for opportunities to tell students, “You can do it!”
Thanks to the equality of opportunity provided by sandlots and playgrounds, it used to be axiomatic that an American kid from any neighborhood could rise to the top of any major league sport. No more. For one thing, there are fewer and fewer sandlots and playgrounds. A more important reason is that fewer and fewer parents can afford the escalating costs of organized sports.
Even school teams are becoming rarer. An examination of who plays youth sports from ESPN The Magazine finds that while there may be 21.5 million kids between age six and 17 playing on a team, including teams at schools, the earliest participants come from upper-income families. “We also see starkly what drives the very earliest action: money,” wrote Bruce Kelley and Carl Carchia. “The biggest indicator of whether kids start young, [sports researcher Don] Sabo found, is whether their parents have a household income of $100,000 or more.” Kids from low-income families are the least likely to be on multiple teams.
If we are really wanting to help these kids that might be coming from poor situations, we need to rethink the practices that we already have in our schools to provide for them. For example, many schools have “computer labs” where we take kids once or twice a week, to do something with technology or allow them to type out an essay for us. This is not a good use of technology anymore and we should know better now. Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event. How many pencil labs do you have in your school?
Let’s face it—no matter where you live, there’s a great chance that when many people talk about “good” schools, they consciously—or subconsciously—mean schools with low numbers of minority students and children in poverty.
A new study has discovered that 48% of the nation’s 50 million public school students are in poverty, as measured by whether they qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches. In 17 states, the majority of schoolchildren are poor. Poverty rates are led by Mississippi, where 71% of children are in poverty.
Laurel Sturt was a 46-year-old fashion designer in New York City whose career trajectory took an unlikely shift one day on the subway. A self-proclaimed social activist, Sturt noticed an ad for a Teaching Fellows program. Then and there, she decided to quit her job in fashion design and shift her focus to her real passion: helping others. She enrolled in the two-year program and was assigned to teach at an elementary school in a high-poverty neighborhood near the South Bronx.
It’s parent-teacher conference time. But for many students across the country, finding a bed at night is top of mind. Host Michel Martin talks about the growing number of homeless students in the U.S., with NPR Education Correspondent Claudio Sanchez, and Larissa Dickinson, a social worker for Mobile County Public Schools in Alabama.
How closely associated do you think struggling academically and growing up in poverty are?
Ready to be shocked: Writing about a linear regression test that he completed using recently released 2013 testing data from public schools in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, Freemark found that the correlation between a child’s economic condition and the likelihood of passing North Carolina’s end of grade exams is 0.85 — TWICE as high as the correlation between spending your life chugging Kentucky bourbon and dying of cirrhosis.
Philadelphia is deep into worst-case scenario territory, but it’s not alone. In cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Chicago—all of them with sizable black populations and long histories of entrenched poverty—lawmakers have responded to budget crises with cuts to public education and market-driven education reform agendas. In a city like Philadelphia, which has the worst poverty rate of the ten largest U.S. cities, in which 39 percent of the city’s children live in poverty and in which blacks and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be poor, robust public schools are even more vital. The consequences of the collapse of the city’s public school system is falling squarely on the backs of Stanback and her classmates.
So how can teachers help homeless students in their own classrooms? After identifying and connecting them with the school or district’s homeless liaison, teachers can help them by being understanding advocates. Simple steps like talking with the students and letting them know they’re there for them, or setting aside classroom materials—pencils, pens, calculators, etc.—that the students can use are great ways for teachers to make homeless students feel welcome in school.