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School system raises awareness of poverty behaviors

December 26, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

With 32 percent of its students considered poor, Washington County Public Schools has offered training sessions for its teachers, counselors and aides in its poorest schools to help them understand how poverty affects children.

Using "A Framework for Understanding Poverty" by Ruby K. Payne, a 31-year education veteran with an expertise in cultural poverty, Carol Corwell-Martin, the school system's school improvement coordinator and Title I school support specialist, and Scott Woods, principal of Clear Spring Elementary School, have talked with people working in the county's 10 Title I schools and at four other locations about the behaviors associated with poverty and how teachers can recognize them and help the students to succeed.

Title I schools receive more federal and state funds based on poverty. The school system paid for the training through a Title I grant, said Carol Mowen, the school system's public information officer.

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Woods, who along with Corwell-Martin attended a four-day training session in November with Payne, said poor children do not think in the long term. They are intent on survival, so it's up to teachers and adult role models to instill in them a sense that they can set goals and achieve them.

He said children, regardless of poverty, should be told, "You need to learn to read so you can put yourself in situations where you can win more often."

Aside from a deficit of financial support, poor children often may lack the skills to cope, to believe in others or in another spiritual being, or to build nurturing relationships, he said.

But, Corwell-Martin said, often it's not just poor children who have missing links in their support systems.

Rebecca Collinson, a student achievement specialist at Salem Avenue Elementary School, said teachers, who mostly come from middle-class backgrounds, sometimes don't understand why their poorer students don't want to succeed in the same way that they did as children.

"Now we're thinking, 'OK, we know the things that motivate us and we typically use those things to motivate them,' but they may not be motivated by the same thing," she said.

It's also important for poor children to feel like they're in relationships of mutual respect, Corwell-Martin said.

One teacher, she said, after her training session this summer, said she made it a point to call all of her students' parents so that she could start building those relationships with them.

The rules at home may be different from the rules at school, she said, but it is up to teachers to make sure that children understand that barrier.

"If they don't believe the choices they make impacts their learning, then we've got to teach them how to make choices," Collinson said.

Corwell-Martin and Woods, who are certified to train groups on understanding poverty for two years, already have trained 80 workers at the Washington County Free Library and have more training sessions lined up for schools and community organizations.

"We're on a very high level of awareness now because of this," Corwell-Martin said.

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