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Understanding childhood poverty, high school staff participates in poverty simulation

four adults sit talking to each other
Trying to decide what to pay, this poverty simulation “family” is two weeks behind on their bills.

Childhood poverty is an epidemic. Schools such as Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk are serving more and more students who are experiencing many of the adverse childhood experiences for which poverty is a serious risk factor. These adverse experiences put students at an educational disadvantage.

two adults stand and talk to three people sitting at a table
Click the photo above to see the RCS simulation in action.

Understanding the community we serve is one of the most important aspects of connecting with our students and providing the best possible education to ensure future success. On Thursday, Nov. 30, RCS High School faculty and staff participated in a poverty simulation, an experience designed to help participants understand what it is like to live in poverty and try to make ends meet from month to month.

“The first week was good and then it just deteriorated,” one participant reflected.

three people count fake money for project
“We don’t know what they are going through and we don’t know the decisions and the values that these families have to make,” Assistant Principal, Joe Slichko said.

The primary objective is to sensitize participants to the realities faced by low-income individuals and families and to educate the participants about the challenges that people living in poverty must address every day.

“The needs of the individual were quickly overlooked for the needs of the family group,” another participant said.

The simulation allowed RCS staff to experience how these challenges can affect the behaviors, beliefs, and health of these individuals, to provide our educators with a better understanding of the social and academics effects of poverty on the students they serve.

a large group sits in chairs
These “students” were supposed to make it to school each week day – however, family issues prevented some from perfect attendance.

“Boy, I felt stressed the whole entire time,” High School Principal, Lisa Patierne said. “This is what some of our kids are going through every day.”

The district also invited community members to assist in the simulation and offer first-hand experience to the participants. These included representatives from the Albany County Sherriff’s Patrol, local fire departments, clergy, bank representatives and the owner of the local Shop ‘n Save.

principal Patierne stands in the center of folding chairs laying on the ground around her
Eviction notice. This family was too far behind on their bills leading to eviction, with no place to go.

“Poverty is not a just a school district problem,” Patierne continued. “It is a community issue and we need to work together to fix this problem and to help every one of our students succeed.”

The simulation was put on by the Greater Capital Region Teacher Center.