COLUMN: School kids living in poverty

Published 2:55 pm Friday, November 25, 2022

Much has been written over the past two years about the negative effect the COVID pandemic had on learning loss in schools from pre-kindergarten through high school. While standardized test scores were waived the first year, these scores the second year indicate significant gaps caused by the long term closure of schools, especially at the elementary level. It has been reinforced that there is no substitute for a teacher in front of a classroom of students teaching lessons and accessing student reactions to determine if they “got it.Masking by both teachers and students, while necessary, produced a barrier that hindered the learning process.

The only good thing about the COVID pandemic is that the threat is mostly past except for a few variants that have emerged from time to time. Vaccines have been developed and administered which have greatly reduced the threat. Thankfully, while the pandemic was devastating, it is mostly over.

One area that has remained a threat to school children is poverty. Children living in poverty have significant issues beyond those classmates who come from more affluent homes. President Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in the 1960s, yet almost 60 years later, this remains an area of concern for many families.

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) classifies students living in poverty as “economically disadvantaged.To be placed in that category, a family must meet one of the following characteristics: eligible for free or reduced meals, eligible for Medicaid, migrant or homeless. According to the latest figures from VDOE for fall of 2021, Franklin had 76.7% of students classified as economically disadvantaged. Southampton had 59.6% and Isle of Wight had 66.8%. The Center for American Progress stated in 2021 that just over 14% of students in the United States live in poverty. That percentage is one of the worst poverty rates of the world’s developed nations.

Parents of students living in poverty want what is best for their children. They struggle to provide adequate food, shelter, and clothing for their children. They are thankful that schools provide breakfast and lunch each day and that “backpack” programs provide food over the weekends. They have to work, so when schools are closed, they often have to stay home to take care of their children resulting in a loss of income. There is no extra money for books at home or time to help with homework.

There are resources available and the book “Bridges Out of Poverty,” 2022 5th edition, by Payne, Devol, and Dreussi-Smith provides guidance in attacking this problem. There are local groups working behind the scenes with a goal to greatly reduce this problem. It will take many volunteers and hours to be successful, but it can and must be accomplished.

Robert N. “Bob” Holt, a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His email address is hrobert@vt.edu.