Children living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to negative aspects of society, such as violence, than children living above the class divide.
Parents should be encouraged to view student work, accomplishments and portfolios when they come to school so they can become more aware of their child's abilities and talents and can discuss them with their children in a meaningful way. Parental involvement sends a message to all children, not only the child of the involved parent, that school is important. Parental involvement can also be contagious, especially when other children observe positive interaction among the teacher, student and parent.
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The difference in academic performance among children from different classes or groups (ethnic, racial, income) is referred to as the achievement gap. Children of poverty generally achieve at lower levels than children of middle and upper classes. The causes are numerous and are related to both the social environment in which poor children live and the education they receive in school. Factors such as the quality of student learning behaviors, home environment, past experiences with education, and teacher attitudes are among the many influences on student achievement. Slavin (1998) proposes that schools can have a powerful impact on the academic achievement and success of all children by viewing them as rather than at-risk and preparing them to reach their full potential.
A Call to End Child Poverty Now
Because relationships with these families are often the most difficult to cultivate, teachers and schools need to make an extra effort to reach out to parents and families of poverty, helping them to help their children. Research suggests that the more parents participate, the better student achievement is. Sometimes reaching a parent can be difficult if they have no phone, do not speak English or cannot read. It is even more critical that we find ways to reach these parents. Once we do reach them, however, there is no guarantee that they will be positive, cooperative, or receptive. We must do our best to attempt to foster a positive relationship with them in face of resistance, keeping in our minds and trying to convince them that their involvement is for the benefit of the child. McGee (1996) mentions that a significant discovery was made by researchers studying poverty and homeless families. They discovered that human relationships must take precedence over academics. They found that only if parents trusted teachers and felt accepted by teachers could the teachers stand a chance of getting through to them.
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The foods that children eat or do not eat affect their brain development, functioning and behavior. Chemicals released in response to both stress and from foods can prevent higher order thinking. Children of poverty are exposed to great amounts of stress and their nutrition may be poor. Chronic stress causes the body to deplete nutrients, inhibits the growth of dendrites and limits interconnections among neurons. The results are: no nutrients are available for learning; thinking is slowed; learning is depressed. When protein foods, often lacking in diets of poor children, are digested, tyrosine is released into the bloodstream. Tyrosine becomes L-dopa in the brain and is then converted into dopamine. Dopamine produces a feeling of alertness, attentiveness, quick thinking, motivation and mental energy.ï¿½ Fear of failure, isolation and trauma, usually present in poor children, cause dopamine to be converted into norepinephrine. This causes alertness to be converted into aggression and agitation. Thus, when nutrition is poor, children: have difficulty tolerating frustration and stress; become apathetic; and are non-responsive, inactive and irritable (Given, 1998). How can they even attempt to learn?
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Children living in poverty, either in low-income families or in low-income areas of the city, who are abused by their mothers, grow up with mothers battling addictions, or whose mothers have mental health issues, are 200-300% more likely to have social or emotional problems than a child growing up in a safer environment.