Explaining the rules

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Most students go home from school to a house or apartment that has electricity and heat and air conditioning, a phone and food in the kitchen. Students living in poverty can't take that for granted. It's harder to solve your homework problems when survival is the problem that never goes away.

The rules are different at school. Middle class rules apply.

The Cape Girardeau School District has shown a determination to counteract the disadvantages faced by students who live in poverty. An example was the presentation on poverty research made earlier this week before the Cape Girardeau School Board. Connie Hebert, a consultant with the Regional Professional Development Center at Southeast Missouri State University, told the board educators must work twice as hard to make progress with impoverished students because they don't know the "hidden rules" the rest of the students know.

In the middle class, for example, hidden rules may include how to set a table properly, how to order in a nice restaurant; talking to kids about going to college; helping kids with homework; knowing the difference between the principal, interest and escrow statements on a house payment. Most people living in poverty do not know how to do these things, though people in the middle class might assume everyone can.

It is far from true that every child growing up in poverty lacks social skills, but some certainly do. Because their situation at home may be chaotic and harsh, they haven't been taught how to greet people and make eye contact. Some talk back to teachers and speak too loudly.

It is important for teachers to treat all students the same, regardless of their social or economic status, which is why every student needs to know the rules. Miraculously, teachers find that these children want to know the rules. They want to fit in, to feel loved and to feel safe.

The same night, Central Junior High School reached out to the parents and students who live on the south side of Cape Girardeau by holding a second-chance back-to-school night at the Salvation Army gym. Many of these parents did not attend the regular back-to-school night held in September, perhaps because they lack transportation or they didn't feel comfortable. The Salvation Army is seen as a welcoming place by many southside residents.

These are small but important steps toward insuring that everyone has a chance to be successful in school.

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