Winston County educators receive lesson on poverty

Educators participating in the poverty simulation program, from left, Patricia Headrick, Caleb Simmons, Mandy Wakefield, Jennifer Seymour and Brittany Tucker.

DOUBLE SPRINGS    -  Teachers throughout Winston County Schools are learning to better understand their students’ needs by walking a mile in their shoes.
Teachers deal on a daily basis with students  falling behind in their grades, being late to class or failing to even show up for class, as well as other learning interruptions, but may not fully understand the circumstances behind these issues.  That is why Winston County Schools recently partnered with the Alabama State Department of Education for a poverty simulation program, designed to place teachers and administrators into the lives of their students in a mock training exercise held at the Double Springs Middle School gym.
The poverty simulation workshop was provided thanks to a portion of a $400,000 Stronger Connections Grant the school system received, according to educators. The grant is designed to build stronger connections between schools and students’ families.
Teachers need to realize that students who are failing in class or not showing up for class may not have a good home life or even a home to go to, organizers said.
“Their parents are having to take them out of school to go pay the bills or to help do the things they shouldn’t have to be doing,” noted Amanda Blevins of BankFirst, one of the many business partners involved in the training program.
Marla Price, secondary curriculum director for Winston County Schools, stressed the critical need for the hand-on learning experience.
“It’s rare that you have a simulation of this type,” Price stated. “When I saw that it was available, I wanted to do what I could to bring it to our people because we do encounter many students and their families.  We know they go through struggles that some of us might not have experienced.
“Even if we have experienced it,” Price added, “it can be easy to forget what it’s like to have to make those kinds of decisions. It’s a way for us to connect with our families and have greater understanding so we can better help those students.”
The need for the program is great locally, seeing that Winston County’s poverty rate is higher than the state average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  At least 18.3 percent of Winston County residents were living in poverty in 2022, the last year full data were available.  The state average for poverty in 2022 was 16.2 percent.
Winston County’s total population in the 2020 census was 23,540.  This means, based on that poverty rate, that approximately 4,300 residents in the county are living in poverty, the Bureau pointed out.
Teachers were each given a family profile, which gave the mock situation they would be in as a student or the parent of a struggling student.  For instance, one educator was given the situation of being a single person, living with a significant other and their child.
The educator would be portraying the part of a 25-year-old man with a GED who has just been released from jail and is now a full time-cafeteria worker.
The situation was that person is living with his girlfriend and her child in a mobile home being  rented and paying half of the rent and utilities.
However, the mobile home has repairs needed that the couple cannot afford, along with high utility bills.
On top of that, the man’s wages have been garnished in order to provide child support for a child he fathered while in high school.
Although the man’s older car is paid in full, it requires frequent and costly repairs. The man is also in the process of paying off a loan and does not have a phone.
This was just one of several situations educators were given. Once the situations were handed out, educators had to meet with their mock family unit and try to decide whether taking out a loan, purchasing groceries, paying off bills, etc., would be their priority.
Each of the stations educators visited were set up by real-life employees of local and area businesses.



See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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