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Poverty 101-Seattle Washington (6865 hits)

This story surprised me, since Seattle is such a beautiful city, and tech savvy and well into cooperative living:

A school for kids living in poverty
A question posed: What do you call homework if you have no home?

A teacher tries to shush her young students, telling them to be "as quiet as a mouse."

The familiar idiom sounds harmless, but it might carry a different meaning for children whose families can't afford garbage service. Their home could be plagued with rats.

If they live in a shelter, with disruptive bed checks throughout the night, children often come to school sleep-deprived. Uncertain of where they'll be living the next week and traumatized by aspects of homelessness, impoverished students and their parents might view education strikingly different than middle-class families.

Teaching low-income children requires a knowledge of "Poverty 101," speakers said Wednesday at the 13th annual fundraising breakfast for First Place, a nonprofit Seattle school for children whose families face the risk or realities of homelessness.

"What do you call homework when you don't have a home?" said keynote speaker Donna Beegle, posing the rhetorical question to an audience of more than 900 people at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. The event raised about $360,000 in donations and pledges, breaking dollar and attendance records for the fundraiser.

Beegle's knowledge of poverty is more than academic. The Portland-area consultant grew up in a migrant labor family that picked crops from Washington to Arizona. She married at 15, dropped out of school and was a single mom by 25.

A decade later, she had earned her bachelor's and master's degrees with honors in communications from the University of Portland and a doctorate in educational leadership from Portland State University. She received scholarships, sought help from mentors, worked her way off welfare and started a communications business, speaking to educators, judges, and social service and health care providers.

Her message: "We need a new understanding of poverty," one that moves "from blame and judgment to understanding."

"If you ask (impoverished people), 'What does education mean to your family?' the No. 1 answer is stress," Beegle said in a follow-up discussion with about 25 educators, social workers and policymakers.

Students and parents worry about the way they look and dress, their place in society and their unfamiliarity with social skills that others take for granted, she said, explaining why some parents don't participate in teacher-parent conferences.

If teachers believe their students can't learn, "you know what? They won't," Beegle said, even though the children often possess untapped leadership abilities and other crucial skills honed through constantly adapting to changes in their lives.

Doreen Cato, now in her 11th year as First Place's executive director, said that when children's social and emotional needs are consistently met at school, academic achievement often follows.

"Even when they go home to some turmoil, they know they're coming back to something constant" at school, she said.

About 70 children attend First Place from prekindergarten through sixth grade, learning in 14-student classrooms. Families, many of whom come from domestic violence situations, receive case management and help with food, clothing, transportation, jobs and housing.

First Place is participating in a two-year demonstration project to help programs in Marysville, Tacoma and Yakima teach children in poverty.

Cato calls her students "unsung heroes" because they have had to adapt to homelessness the same as their parents, but without the ability to change their homelessness.

Before she finished fourth grade, Tanya Pio had lived in California, Hawaii and Washington, bouncing among three elementary schools in SeaTac alone.

What led to stability was a stay in a shelter, where a parent told her mom about First Place. The school has become "like one family," said Tanya, 12, a sixth-grader. "You know everybody. We all work together and do stuff."

At the fundraiser, Tanya played clarinet in the school band and led band members in the First Place pledge, which stipulates that the school is a place where students don't have to act, think or look the same because "our differences make us interesting and unique."

"We treat others the way we like to be treated," the students recited. "We treat each other with respect."

P-I reporter John Iwasaki can be reached at 206-448-8096 or johniwasaki@seattlepi.com.
Posted By: Marta Fernandez
Monday, March 30th 2009 at 12:09PM
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