How Poverty Affects High School Students, Told by Arizona Teachers


Opinion: Arizona high school teachers are more than educators. They are advisers. Suppliers of school supplies. Common-law parents.

Kindergarten to Grade 12 public school teachers in Arizona are on the front lines of poverty. They are more than educators. They are advisers. Social workers. Suppliers of school supplies. Cheerleaders for students. Advocacy for fair and excellent education. Common-law parents.

They work long hours under stressful conditions.

Here are some of the high school students they educate, as told by their teachers, collected by Save Our Schools, and compiled by Rhonda Cagle, member of the Arizona Republic’s Board of Contributors.

The names of the students have been changed for anonymity, but their stories are real.

He juggled distance learning and a late night job

For educators and students alike, it was difficult to meet typical performance expectations during a global pandemic. While striving to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, typical student challenges such as poverty or learning disabilities remained. Educators had to create materials without additional resources.

For one of my second year students, that meant navigating virtual learning, following the demands of the program that made no room for the realities of our unprecedented circumstances, and having a job that made him work until the wee hours. in the morning. He did all of this relying on his teachers to keep up with his 504 plan to support her disability, which was not written for pandemic learning.

I saw his motivation quickly wane and I reached out. Our conversations were heartbreaking, but necessary to better support him. He moved around, stayed with relatives or friends because of the difficulties at home. He feared that he would be constantly exposed to COVID-19 at work. He was struggling more than ever to concentrate and retain information.

As a team, its teachers have tried to adapt its accommodation to the unique circumstances of the school year. We made sure he got meals and meetings with our school social worker – the first time I could use a school social worker in my 10 years of teaching.

Despite all this, he often did not show up, but not because of any real shortcomings on his part. On the contrary, the system and the broader economic realities forced us all to do a lot with too little, and it just wasn’t always enough.

This sophomore finally quit his job to devote more time to his studies. He barely passed his lessons. His 504 plan has been updated. But I’m still worried about him.

It is one story among many. Our high school students face many of the same barriers as adults. He deserves a lot less obstacles and so much more support.

Élise Villescaz, Thunderbird High School, Glendale Union School District

Rural poverty is nothing like urban poverty

Trained in the downtown core, I was confident in my ability to work with children in poverty when I got my first teaching job in southern Arizona. I was wrong. Rural poverty is nothing like urban poverty, and the experiences of children in our rural communities are often invisible to policy makers.

Rural poverty is “Geneviève,” whose family of eight lived in a trailer park adjacent to a portable toilet business. Rows of toilets, encased in blue boxes, stretched from his front door to the desert.

Geneviève did not have a washing machine. Every week, she quietly passed me a bag of laundry that I cleaned and returned to her.

Poverty is an essay on drunk mothers who forget to buy grain and take long walks on hot, dusty roads during a summer in Arizona to do grocery shopping for their siblings.

Rural poverty is the grocery store in Circle K where fresh fruit is unheard of. It’s a school trip ending at a Sweet Tomatoes restaurant in Tucson, watching stunned high school kids see leafy green vegetables for the first time.

This poverty is “Santiago” who, after being placed in his eighth foster home, came to my ninth grade English class. He surreptitiously looked at a leftover tangerine from my lunch and asked if he could have it. I accepted, and weeks after struggling to deal with the often violent explosions in Santiago, I realized.

Santiago spent the rest of that school year working in my English class for a fresh fruit. Mandarins, apples and even peaches were our motto. He worked hard and I, in turn, provided him with a piece of fruit every day.

Public schools are the center of rural communities, and legislators must recognize and fund them as such.

Marie Perez, Sierra Vista High School, Sierra Vista Unified School District

Being poor in an upper middle class school

My school is located in an upper middle class neighborhood, but I have a lot of students who are homeless or living in poverty. Their parents are using all possible means to get them to “an elite high school” where they hope that more opportunities will be offered to their child.

While there is some truth to this, there are also challenges in being the “stranger” – the only student in your class without a cell phone; the student limited to certain foods in the cafeteria; one who does not try sports because of the additional costs associated with sports shoes, uniforms and transport.

Merger can be a full-time job for a high school student living in poverty in a school where you are “other” the minute you walk on campus.

As a teacher, I bought school supplies for the children, I asked for donations from neighbors to buy shoes so that a student could play sports, and I collected items in empty boxes. attics so that students can integrate with their peers. While luxury items like nail polish or lip gloss may seem trivial, for a high school student, it’s the difference between fitting in or standing out.

The challenges of students experiencing poverty have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, as more teachers rely on technology and the internet. Students living in poverty come to school daily behind their peers simply because of the lack of digital access to online reading or homework. And although the library is “open”, it is a luxury that some students cannot afford due to lack of transportation.

As we begin the school year with the surge in COVID-19, I worry so much for these children. The technological gap has widened and few resources are in place to meet the needs of these children. I hope our state will prioritize our most precious resource – our children.

Michelle Capriotti, Casteel High School, Chandler Unified School District

Problems at home hamper genius

Every day, I have the chance to work with young people who are overflowing with genius. My students are critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, and empathetic friends. It is truly a joy and an honor to support them in their growth.

In my 15 years of teaching in Arizona public schools, I have cherished the opportunity to see the genius that my students have. But I have also seen far too many circumstances that could overshadow their brilliance and prevent them from seizing the opportunities.

I remember the two years in a row when Jasmine was eager to take a robotics class, but her tutor couldn’t afford the class fees. I remember when Angel stopped coming to school because he was having a growth spurt and outgrown all of his shoes.

Last year during distance learning, Sara texted me explaining that she would miss the next two days of class until her family was able to pay her school bill. electricity. Michael couldn’t stay awake during his first period because he worked long hours at his job after school to help his family pay their bills. And we were all heartbroken, struggling to focus because we mourn the loss of one of our own to gun violence.

As a high school teacher, I work with over 150 students a year. I rely on counselors, social workers and community liaison officers to help support our students. They are incredibly talented and hardworking professionals, but the needs are great and we are all too busy.

The young people we serve are full of potential. They are ready to impact our world for the better. Arizona must provide the resources necessary for all students to shine.

Kristin Roberts, Carl Hayden Community High School, Phoenix Union School District

Children cannot learn to high levels without food, supplies

On the first day of school in a damp classroom, 32 students from AP Calculus stare at me as I begin to speak. “On the counter you will find everything you need for my class. Pencils. Paper. Erasers. Help you.

“At the back of the room are graphing calculators you will need for this year’s AP exam. I prefer you to have yours because you will need it in college; however, I understand that they are expensive. You can borrow one from me.

“If you are hungry and thirsty, I always have something. We’re going to tackle some really tough math this year, and I need you to be prepared. I need you all. I will be more than happy to share.

We dive into graphic parables and the year 26 is underway.

Many teachers have learned over the years that when students’ needs are not met before they walk through their doors, learning is more difficult to achieve. When students are not fed or not equipped to be ready for class activities, or when a student is worried because their family cannot afford the rent this month and may be evicted, the quadratic formula seems out of place. about.

When they live in a shed a few months later, solving equations is the least of their concerns. But, eight hours a day, a pupil can also find refuge at school with adults concerned about his well-being. School is where they can find meals, a controlled temperature, a place to be themselves, and a safe place to ask for help.

Schools are more than just a place of learning. As educators, we take care of the whole student. More often than not, the teacher usually finances the needs of the students from their own bank account. Because we are all concerned. We are happy to share.

Kelly Berg, Dobson High School, Mesa Public Schools

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