Writer Charmain Brown with students and parent volunteers standing in front of a school
Writer Charmain Brown with students and parent volunteers

Standing Together Against Poverty

Charmain Brown

At Wilclay, educators found students needed extra supports to remain focused on their learning. In response, the school has several initiatives including a “wellness room” where students can go to take a break from class, get support for an individual issue, deal with conflict or have social groups facilitated by child and youth workers or teachers. Many classrooms have “calming baskets” that include tissues, Playdough, sensory/textured balls, squeeze toys and homemade glitter bottles. Students have access to the calming baskets whenever they feel they need it or a teacher can encourage students to use it when the need arises. 

For junior and intermediate students, having voice and empowering them to use it builds confidence and resilience. Regular gender-specific social groups along with classroom lessons by teachers and various community organizations create opportunities to express ideas and feelings and learn new strategies for emotional and social well-being.
Teachers, schools and community partners working together for the well-being and success of students and their families requires that we build mutually supportive relationships, coordinate resources and ensure effective communication amongst all stakeholders. When working in a school community that has issues of poverty, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. Being immersed in the daily work of supporting learners who come to our classrooms with various physical, social-emotional and academic needs can be overwhelming for new and seasoned educators. For these two schools, the key has been seeing the community as a valuable resource and bringing as many voices to the table as possible to ensure the schools are inclusive, effective and supportive of the needs of students and their families. 

Strategies for Addressing Poverty in your School 
The following strategies are excerpted from Poverty and Schooling: Where Mindset Meets Practice. Written by Dr. Darlene Ciuffetelli Parker, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at Brock University, this resource suggests school-based strategies to address poverty that focus on enhancing teacher awareness, building school culture and enhancing professional practice in the classroom. 
•    Provide professional-development that promotes an understanding of and sensitivity to issues related to poverty.
•    Encourage school teams to engage in site-based, collaborative inquiry to explore preconceived assumptions and stereotypes associated with families living in poverty as well as to reflect on their practices in classrooms and schools.
•    Seek to understand the context in which students and their families live.
•    Understand the context of your workplace and the community that surrounds it.    
•    Resist deficit language when speaking about learners, their learning and their families.
•    Engage families outside and inside the walls of the school.