Goal was to provide insight in how to help students
Even though the Bowling Green R-I campus was closed to students on Friday, the learning didn’t stop—for the teachers and the staff.
A few dozen people met in the Bowling Green Elementary School’s all-purpose room to take part in a poverty simulation program conducted by volunteers and the staff of the North East Action Corp.
Inside, the room was transformed into a small town complete with a school, a bank, utility companies, retail businesses, a pawnshop and even a jail. In the center of the room chairs were set up to simulate living quarters—homes and apartments. There were even a homeless shelter and a day care center. Teachers were assigned various roles, either as young students, teens or parents/head of household.
The day’s program was broken up into four, 15-minute increments, with each 15 minutes representing one week.
The simulation was to show the teachers and staff the difficulties of providing basic needs for one’s family if they were living at or below the poverty line. According to the Health and Human Services 2021 guidelines, $21,500 is the annual salary for a family of 4 to be at the threshold for poverty.
Becky Orf, with the school’s Bright Futures program, said they work to provide the basic needs of students so they can attend school. She said this year, they helped 46 students and families and there were 58 local families in crisis.
She noted that this year, 48 Bowling Green students experienced homelessness and 15 were put into foster care.
Orf said she was impressed with the Bowling Green community because it always put children first.
“I wanted us to experience what it’s like for some of our families,” she said. And the only way to do that, she added, is to participate in a simulation like this.
This is the first time NECAC has run a poverty simulation at the Bowling Green R-I campus.
Orf thanked the volunteers who came to help with the simulation.
Desiree Antoniou, with the Warrenton County NECAC office, was the moderator for the day’s program.
She implored the teachers and staff who were present to take the simulation seriously.
“Some of the children you teach face this reality every day of their lives,” she said.
Antoniou noted that each family group had a set income or the head of household was looking for work. They had to learn how to budget their income and know what bills needed to be paid so they could keep their homes and put food on the table.
“If you don’t pay your bills,” she said, “you will be homeless.”
At the end of the first 15 minutes (week), four of the families had left children at the day care center and no one had bought food for the week. By the third 15-minute increment, it was standing room only in the homeless shelter and the juvenile hall was filled with children who had been neglected or who were missing school.
She also wanted the participants to know where they could go for assistance, either for helping with one’s mortgage or rent or for paying one’s utility bills. And she wanted them to know about food pantries and other programs available for helping keep food on the table.
Bowling Green’s school system offers free breakfast and lunch, which can help take some of the load off of parents or guardians. But that is only for the children in school.
Those participating quickly learned to line up for the few available jobs. Police Darin Chance volunteered as a business owner looking to hire. It was difficult position to be in, he said, because he didn’t have enough jobs and there were quite a few people he had to let go for various reasons.
Some of the participants began to think out of the box. An abandoned house was broken into and its things stolen. People who left items in their houses came back at the end of the time period to find items missing. The pawnshop started to get a lot of business. The most important items to have were transportation chits. Even if a person was walking, he or she still needed one of the transportation passes. Getting from point A to point B in a timely matter can sometimes mean getting to a business before it closes or getting to a job on time.
One of the participants noted that she now understood the correlation between poverty and crime.
Poverty takes a heavy toll on the parents and the children. If they don’t have enough to eat, they can have problems learning in school. If they can’t bathe often, they could be picked on by their peers in school.
Sometimes older children would have to take on jobs to help with the family income. That could cut into their study time as well as burden them with the responsibility of an adult.
Antoniou wanted teachers to keep an eye out for students who might be suffering because of poverty. She asked that they take these students aside for a private conversation, so they could offer the kind of information where they could go for help, or provide it to their parents or guardians for them to seek the help they need.