What It Means to be Poor

Poverty significantly impacts education. Yet the line defining who is poor differs from one country to another. In the United States, a household of four persons living on less than $15 a day is considered poor while in India, that same household has to live on just $2 a day to be regarded as living below the poverty line. Poverty is often relative but its effects on education seem universal.

Using the standards of a developing country, I grew up poor. Forget about clothing, my parents worried about having food on a daily basis. Deprivation was not just imagined. It was real. My parents were working hard from dawn to dusk (and sometimes, from dusk to dawn) to ensure that we had food for that day. How one could focus on academics when mere subsistence was a major concern made me take schooling one day at a time. Goals were less lofty. I was just focused on learning each lesson in school each day. And spending time in school was really a break from being and feeling poor. Schools might not be able to cure poverty but in my case, schools effectively served as a respite. Poverty could be interrupted.

NPR recently interviewed Tiffany Anderson, the superintendent at Jennings School District, where schools face poverty, poor learning outcomes, and budget problems. Anderson is credited for a dramatic turnaround the school district made in just a matter of three years. Jennings' schools now boast of meeting 81 percent of the state's standards (up from 57 percent), a 92 percent four-year graduation rate, and a 100 percent college and career-placement rate.

Above copied from NPR

Did Anderson use a magic potion? No, in the interview this is what Anderson said:
I believe that poverty can be interrupted, and the best interrupter is education. You cannot expect children to learn at high levels if they come in hungry and tired, and so we remove those barriers. So the barrier of food - we have a food pantry, and we give out 8,000 pounds of food a month. The health care - if a child breaks an arm, come to school. We have a pediatrician there. I mean, so it's really understanding the needs of the community and then meeting those needs. That's what every child deserves. They deserve the very best. 
We spend a lot of time building relationships. You know, we change how we serve people. Recently, we just did a poverty simulation where many of our teachers were placed in poverty for what felt like an entire week. And many were ready to give up before the week was out. And so this idea of first training those that you're serving so that they understand the barriers that poverty creates. And so with building those relationships first, our teachers - they want our children to succeed. They really do, and we've given them a path to make that happen.
Education is an interrupter. Yes, it was, based on my own experience. I remembered that while I was sitting on my chair inside the classroom, I forgot about the worries at home. Teachers could do that, empowered teachers do.