The Invisible Backpack that Poverty Brings to the Classroom

How does poverty impact students? At a recent gathering of education leaders, Amy Wood, Director of Education Programs for Marion City Schools and Wendy Brannen, Senior Technical Assistance Coach for KnowledgeWorks directed the audience to address that question with the task of comparing and contrasting the challenges that urban and rural communities face. One audience member reflected, “The struggles are common.”

The challenges facing urban and rural communities share much in common.
The challenges facing urban and rural communities share much in common.

Peggy McIntosh describes privilege as an invisible backpack “of assurances, tools, maps, guides” etc. It can work in reverse, too, though. Some of our students are weighed down by a backpack filled with burdens. Regardless of whether they are urban or rural, the invisible backpack is real for so many students and what we do both in the classroom, and beyond, is critical.

As an example of how this backpack of can effect students, Amy shared insight into alarming statistics about graduates of Marion City Schools: 20% of students went on to postsecondary and 60% did nothing, becoming disengaged youth. When faced with that reality, educators must target specific areas of impact that are preventing success.

Strategies for Working with Poverty in the Classroom

Eric Jensen has written several books on poverty, and in them he shares strategies for how to address stress, cognitive gaps with working memory, and the lack of emotional support that comes with poverty-stricken students. An essential piece in his work is the emphasis giving intentionality to tasks that will improve working memory. In our workshop, Wendy and Amy went over several hows including connecting to emotions, using visuals, questioning techniques, and rehearsal and repeating.

Strategies for Working with Poverty in the Early College Environment

For the KnowledgeWorks early college program to be successful in a community like Marion, it takes a college liaison. “When they are with you, they need your support. But when they leave you, they still need the support,” says Wendy.

The Presidential Pathway is one strategy that Marion is using to build bridges to success for students that continues beyond early college. “This removes barriers for this young person,” said Amy.

The Presidential Pathway is one strategy that Marion City Schools is using to build bridges to success for students that continues beyond early college.
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Unlike other schools where the advisor role ends at graduation, at Marion, the advisors continue to support students at the college level by connecting them to college advisors, and employment resources.

Laura Hilger

Written by: Laura Hilger

Laura Hilger is a Director of Teaching and Learning for KnowledgeWorks.

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