Cape school board gets lesson on low-income students

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Which grocery stores' Dumpsters contain thrown-away food? How do you live without electricity or a phone? What happens when there isn't enough money to pay bills?

The answers to these questions all boil down to one thing for people living in poverty: survival.

It's a harsh reality that members of the Cape Girardeau School Board faced at a special meeting Monday night, during which they discussed problems associated with impoverished students.

The meeting included a presentation on poverty research by Connie Hebert, a consultant with the Regional Professional Development Center at Southeast Missouri State University.

"We live and play by middle class rules. For children living in poverty, it makes it hard for them to figure out what the rules are," Hebert said. "We need to make as much progress with that group of people as we do with middle class children, but we have to work twice as hard to do that."

Hebert discussed the importance of teaching the "hidden rules" of the middle class to impoverished children.

Clippard Elementary principal Sydney Herbst said several local schools use a social skills model that does just that -- teaches children a specific way to behave and uses a uniform language to implement the skills.

"That puts all kids on the same playing field. It takes the 'I know what to do and you don't' out of it," Herbst said.

Hebert and board members also discussed the importance of communication skills and vocabulary in overcoming poverty stereotypes, as well as introducing appropriate role models.

"We're constantly telling children 'look what you can do, what you can be.' We point to doctors and lawyers, but children look out the window and you know who they see driving the big Dodge Durango? Drug dealers," Hebert said. "And they know where that money came from because it's their cousin."

335-6611, extension 128

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