Did I study? No. I was trying hard not to freeze. Or starve.

January 9, 2014 at 2:29 am 4 comments

Guest blogger, Paul Gamboa


With the early calling off of school, it allotted a lot more time than I had expected to have to cook these last few days. Figured spaghetti would work nicely. We had most of the ingredients lying around. As the water boiled for the pasta, I watched the condensation on the kitchen windows begin to freeze before the pasta was even done cooking. Moments like that can easily get lost, but they’re important.

I’m pretty thankful to have a warm place to live.

As we all know, though, this isn’t the case for many of our students.

The school that I work at is routinely amongst the top performing schools in the state. We received a Blue Ribbon school award from the Department of Education last year for being high performing but still showing growth. We also have demographics that would show that this should be the case.

We have less than 5 percent of our students labeled economically disadvantaged. I have very few students who take time each day worrying if they wore enough clothing to make it home safely or if, when they do, they will have enough to eat.

This isn’t the case with other buildings in my district. There has been a steady increase in free and reduced lunch kids in my district. The school with the highest, at almost 65 percent, is literally on the other side of the tracks from my school, less than a mile away.

I was teasing my wife about her fascination with this storm. She also teachers fifth grade at a suburban school. However it is a very different world than I teach in.

Her school has slightly more than half the students coming from low-income households. It took me awhile (I’m not always a quick study) to realize why the fascination, bordering on panic, was occurring about her district not announcing cancellation. She has students that don’t have coats that can handle this weather.

This wasn’t mass hysteria over #Chiberia2014. She was truly terrified what could happen to some of her students if they had to try to negotiate the cold.

Sadly, this isn’t even close to the schools with the biggest needs. It’s the dirty little secret that is plaguing our country, and as a direct result, our schools. How are students going to learn when they are coming from homes, if they have one, that are struggling to meet their Maslow Level 1 needs?

You’d be hard pressed to find a teacher anywhere on the planet who hasn’t experienced this in some capacity. However, the fact that a sickeningly large number of our “low performing” schools also have the highest numbers of poverty-stricken students shouldn’t really come as a surprise. It’s the topic many people don’t want to talk about.

When a kid is wondering if they are going to be able to safely make it home, or if they will eat that night, or if they will see their parents because they’re working multiple jobs to try to get by — learning is not going to be a priority. The same goes for the parents. If the two options I was faced with were: desperately find a way to make sure my children’s basic physiological needs were met or make sure that homework was done, I know which path I’d lean towards.

Yet this is something that teachers are faced with every day. Educators see students coming into our classroom and we will do anything we can to try to help them. Almost without exception, this is done without fanfare, without acknowledgement and seemingly not even cared about by most of our country. It doesn’t make it any less frustrating. It’s impossible to argue that poverty doesn’t have a direct effect on education.

One of the things that my school is actively engaged with is the Green Harvest Food Pantry. It is a charity that deals exclusively with getting food to the working poor. It’s a wonderful thing for my kids to understand what it costs to live around here and how hard it is even for those with a job, or two, or three, or four. Even many parents with full time+ jobs are having trouble making ends meet.

I make sure that my kids understand this as part of our school’s food drive. At times though, I wish that I could take this out to more people. The steady growth of poverty in our country is what has been crippling education. If we don’t make sure that our kids have proper nutrition, clothing and shelter, they have very little chance of living up to their potential in the classroom.

Watching law after law pass which tries to “fix” the problem gets more and more frustrating. All educators have seen the impact on students when their biological needs aren’t being met. Sadly, most of us are seeing it more and more. We will continue to do what we can to help the kids when they’re within the school’s walls, and outside when we can.

I find it funny that a major candy bar company has an ad campaign based around the slogan, “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” Yet when it comes to schools we’re supposed to completely ignore poverty and blame any low performance purely on bad pedagogy and corrupt teacher unions.

I’m going to go ahead and disagree.

These last few days are cause for a genuine reason to be thankful (those of us who have sufficient clothing and shelter) and also a genuine reason for outrage (many of our kids don’t). I just wish that the narrative were more focused on this.

As always, your comments, feedback and stories are welcome in the comments section. Stay warm everyone and here’s to a great 2014!


Entry filed under: Parenting. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Eating Through the Holidays… When Parents Make Mistakes

4 Comments Add your own

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