Helping students from poverty

This is Part II of our discussion on poverty from last week.  If you didn't read that initial post, click here.  Today, we will arm ourselves with creativity and ideas from academia to help students from poverty succeed in our classrooms and beyond.

(From Leo Reynold's Flickr stream; Photo taken in Scotland)
Ideas to consider:

Roots and Wings - Help students feel deeply rooted in their communities (families and schools), yet have strong wings to attempt new adventures and opportunities.  The best way to grow strong roots is to embrace the "it takes a village..." philosophy.  When mom, dad, grandma, cousins, aunts, uncles and caregivers are involved in a student's schooling and school, roots naturally become strong.  To help students grow wings, look at enrichment opportunities in your area or in an interest.  For example, if you know a student has an interest in outer space, could you find a mentor in your area (or via email) to buddy-up with your student and share their space expertise with them?  Or could you help a student write an essay to secure a scholarship to "space camp" for the summer?  Roots and wings...foster them both.

Developmental Assets - Remember this post on the Search Institutes's developmental assets?  This is a great way to help students from poverty as it is not about finances, but about other supports to help students.  Remember the more assets a student has, the more likely the student will not engage in risky behaviors.  Consider going back to this original post and printing off the developmental asset sheet for your students' age range as a reminder of which assets should be fostered.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - Since poverty affects the foundation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, brainstorm ways to help students get their "deficiency" needs met.  For example, if a student is homeless, can you have the address handy for a local homeless shelter and slip it privately to them?  If the student does not have a safe or quiet place to complete homework, could you open up your classroom 2-3 afternoons or early mornings a week for students to use the space as a study hall? 

Read Dr. Ruby Payne's book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty - This book should be mandatory for any educator who works with students from poverty.  A favorite section of mine is Dr. Payne's discussion of "resources" for students.  Of course, the obvious resource for a student from poverty would be money or strong finances, but let's face it, as a teacher, that resource is often times lacking even for us.  Dr. Payne states that being impoverished is not solely about money.  In fact,  in her book she lists seven other resources that can be just as valuable to students.  The top resources for students, in addition to having financial resources, would include:
  1. Emotional - Having emotional intelligence and the ability to be resilient when failures or setbacks occur.  I feel a blog post on this topic coming on.....
  2. Mental - Basic academic skills like reading, writing and mathematics; necessary for promotion in school and business.
  3. Spiritual - Believing in a purpose greater than oneself.  (Very Daniel Pink, this one, isn't it?)
  4. Physical - Having adequate physical health and wellness.
  5. Support Systems - Knowing that a strong network of family and friends exist and can be supportive.
  6. Relationships/Role Models - Having access to nurturing adults who model appropriate behaviors.
  7. Knowledge of Hidden Rules - Knowing the unspoken rules of a group.  An example may include writing a thank you note after a person does something nice for you (a very middle-class rule).  My grandmother would be saddened to know I still have not written thank you cards for gifts received over the holidays - four months ago!  As a teacher, you need to explicitly teach the hidden rules to your students from poverty if they do not know them.
  8. Financial - Having enough money to purchase goods and services.
According to Dr. Payne, three or fewer resources for a student is problematic.

Mirrors and Windows - Surround students with good people and growth experiences that allow them to see themselves in a clear light (and see others who are just like them), while providing windows to see beyond their immediate situation or neighborhood.  When I taught on the Navajo Nation, I comfortably provided many windows for students to see beyond their lives on the reservation, but since I am not Navajo (read: not a great mirror), I sought alternative ways to provide mirrors.  For example, how can students see themselves in a book character or a time period in history?  Which chemical element is most like them?  If you need help with mirrors, try what I did and connect mirrors to your subject area or content.

I believe this would be a fantastic post to hear from you in the comments section.  What other ideas do you have to help students from poverty?