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Running a Three-Legged Race with Poverty

A solid education that prepares a student for college and careers makes a huge life difference for a boy of color raised in poverty. That education can be the starting point for attaining so much more in life and breaking the cycle of poverty for himself and his family.

But getting that education is no easy task. It takes hard work, persistence, and focus. And sometimes, even that is not enough. You see, for low-income students, succeeding in school is like running a three-legged race with poverty as your partner. It slows you down. Sometimes it trips you up. It can even cause you to give up and not even finish the race.

So what is our role as educators in ensuring that students living in poverty still succeed academically?

The Everyone Graduates Center has released a new white paper, “Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All – The Crucial Role of School Supports.” In this paper, Balfanz makes the case that to overcome the impacts of poverty on education, schools that serve high concentrations of low-income students need to have the capacity to provide enhanced supports to students. These supports should help students to attend school regularly, to behave appropriately, to complete coursework, and to believe that they will succeed in school. In addition, students need to be supported to overcome obstacles outside the school building such as housing instability, lack of food, family care issues, abuse, lack of school-appropriate clothing, etc.

Schools, community-based organizations, nonprofits, faith leaders, and social service systems all have a role to play in this work. In the African American holiday tradition of Kwaanza, there is a principle called Ujima that means collective work and responsibility. Engaging in these partnerships across community systems is the only way we can create sustainable direct supports for students in poverty. And it doesn’t stop there – once these young men have graduated from high school, they need to be supported to enroll and persist in college.

Together, we can lessen the drag of poverty on their three-legged race and get them across that educational finish line. You see, in this race, it doesn’t matter who finishes first. It just matters that they finish.