A Window Into Rural Poverty- By a Teacher in Upstate New York
I teach in upstate New York at an elementary school that is designated by NYSED as "High Needs/Rural" I would like to share some of the experiences I had today while my colleague and I conducted home visits with the families of four of the 80 kindergartners entering our school this year. Two of the families we visited today are on varying degrees of public assistance. One family I would categorize as working poor and the other lower middle-class.
In the two homes of families in need of public assistance, I was struck by the dimness. Not one light on. I suspect one family had their electricity turned off. Neither of us heard even the hum of a refrigerator. So quiet. I think of my own children's and my lighting habits. How we take for granted being able to flip on the light to cheer up our space or do work not thinking about the little bit of extra $$$ it takes to create a warm, inviting, and workable atmosphere. I know how it makes me feel when I'm not in a comfortably lit room. As I looked at the little girl clinging to her mother with her dirty and disheveled clothes, I began thinking about the impact being in a well lit school environment might have on her. Would the vacant look eventually be replaced by the tiny spark of a twinkle. Later, my colleague and I noted on the post visit form. "No twinkle" or even an eyebrow raised at the mention of things most 5 year old hearts would flutter over. Several years ago I had this mother's daughter in 4th grade(now 20) Mom is approximately 45 years old and has three grandchildren of her own. I knew she was a single mom and commiserated with her about the common struggles being one myself. She seemed to open up a little more after that. At the end of the meeting, I asked her what were some things she wished she could do for her daughter that she just can't because of financial limitations. Mom's answer: "Sometimes she asks me to buy her a book when we're out shopping and I just tell her 'Mommy can't do that right now.'" How many times have my own kids come to me asking for a certain book they need to read for pleasure or school. We love to keep our books. Within minutes it's ordered on Amazon and in their hands .
Libraries are of course an option, but limited transportation and incurred late fees are often a hindrance. One post visit note recorded: "Black teeth. In need of dental care." Was this little girl not talking or smiling because her mouth was in pain?
We visited with a young mom and dad (at the most 23) with their two young daughters. When asked if they had any concerns or questions With A Brooklyn Accent: A Window Into Rural Poverty- By a Teacher in Upstate New York: