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Posted: January 8, 2016

Supt. Reedy's Message on Poverty

Poverty is prevalent in our schools. Read Supt. Reedy's message on how some are addressing the issue.

Dear Colleagues,

Matheson Park is a small NE Heights elementary school tucked in a quiet neighborhood not far from the school where I worked for so many years. It's also one of our 105 high-poverty schools, with three fourths of its students qualifying as low income. Many Matheson Park families can't find work or are barely scraping by, working two or three low-paying jobs and relying on free breakfast and lunch at school to help feed their children.

I stopped by the school on Monday, where staff was absorbed in a book study on poverty. These compassionate teachers, administrators, EAs, nurse and others gather once a month on their own time to read and discuss the book, "See the Poverty, Be the Difference," by Dr. Donna Beegle. It's part of their Poverty Awareness Training sponsored by APS Title I. More than 40 schools are taking part in the voluntary training, which includes a day-long seminar, customized coaching sessions, book studies and more. The goal is to better equip schools to meet the needs of students confronting poverty.

I also visited Sandia High School and found the staff there deep in discussion about the same topic.

Like so many of our schools, Sandia's  and Matheson Park's populations have changed over the years, and teachers and staff are having to make adjustments to instruction, day-to-day operations, and their own attitudes in order to best support students.

"It's not lowering expectations; it's operating with compassion and making kids feel safe," Principal Kathy Harper explained. "We want to make sure we're not defeating a child whose life is already difficult. We have to remember that they're doing the best they can, and that they're just children."

Adjustments made by schools to address poverty often are subtle, but can make a big difference. For example, at E.G. Ross they've changed the way they greet students who arrive after the bell, welcoming them with open arms rather than shaming them for being late.

At James Monroe, they're planning to offer before-school homework help in the cafeteria so students can eat a healthy breakfast while getting help from teachers and volunteers.

Del Norte is working on ensuring that their students arrive to class ready to learn by promoting breakfast in their new cafeteria and increasing the number of families who fill out free and reduced-price meal applications.

Part of the training is debunking myths about poverty. This is not a minority issue or one that only impacts pockets of our district. More than two thirds of our students qualify for free and reduced meals. Nearly three fourths of our schools are classified as Title I, meaning they are high-poverty schools that qualify for extra federal funding. It's widespread, in every school, in every classroom.

We want our schools to embrace the whole child. In order to do that, we need to make every effort to walk in their shoes, imagine their lives and accept them as the unique and precious human beings they truly are. I am so proud of our school staffs for reaching out in this way to make sure these students, all of our students, get the education they're entitled to in the safe, comfortable environments they deserve.

Kind regards, 

Raquel  Reedy
APS Superintendent