Meeting the Needs of Children in Poverty: In the U.S., Where More Than Half of Students Are Considered Poor, Schools Provide More Than Education

By Smith, Pamela Davis | District Administration, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Meeting the Needs of Children in Poverty: In the U.S., Where More Than Half of Students Are Considered Poor, Schools Provide More Than Education


Smith, Pamela Davis, District Administration


In a perfect world, every child would have access to food, shelter and clothing. They would have loving, attentive parents. They would arrive at school eager, focused and ready to learn. Unfortunately, our pre-K through 5 school, like a growing number of U.S. public schools, does not reside in that world. At Highland View Elementary in Bristol, Virginia, more than 99 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Were situated less than 2 miles from the Tennessee border, which means that families are constantly moving in and out of the district. About one-third of students who enter our school don't stay through the year. But while they are with us, our goal is to not just make a difference; it's to be the difference in students' and families' lives.

Feed students' brains

Before we can feed students' brains with knowledge, we first must feed them with nutritious food. In Virginia, more than 300,000 children live in food-insecure households. Thanks to state and federal programs, we now provide all of our students with three free meals at school and a weekend snackpack.

Treat students like own children

Another challenge is that many students arrive at school feeling stressed out or traumatized by their home environment. That makes it difficult to learn. So when students step onto campus, we look to see who's smiling and who's upset, hurt or in need of support. By spotting problems early, we can address them before they create issues in the classroom. Sometimes that means we need to provide medical attention or counseling, or call social services. Sometimes we need to wash their clothes using the washer and dryer we keep in a storage room. Other times, we just need to provide a kind word or a hug.

Each day we ask ourselves, "What can we do to help our children be successful? How can we make school the best part of their day?"

Close gaps

One-third of students who enter our school are one or more grade levels behind in math and reading. …

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