An Unlevel Playing Field: Help Schools Help Children in Poverty

An Unlevel Playing Field:
Help Schools Help Children in Poverty

With a nearly 20% poverty rate among Arizona children, families often rely on their local public school in ways beyond providing a quality education. As a result, teachers must ensure basic needs such as nutrition and safety are met before focusing on academics. Preschoolers and early childhood education are today’s focus. Read our 8-part series to learn how teachers are managing as first responders to child poverty and why increased education funding is necessary to meet this crisis. Read our last piece titled Poverty Puts Needs Ahead of School.

Wes Oswald
3rd Grade Teacher
Escuela Manzo School
Tucson, AZ
Wes Oswald - Help Schools Help Children in Poverty

High Poverty, Low Technology Access

I am a veteran elementary school teacher in Tucson where 97% of students at my school qualify for free or reduced lunch. In a year of online learning, this poverty was especially noticeable. Almost all of my students attended class via district-issued devices because they did not have their own. Many students joined using district-issued Wi-Fi hotspots or their own slow internet. Students’ internet frequently booted them from Zoom sessions, garbled voices beyond intelligibility, or rendered students as glitched-out images.

“I am a veteran elementary school teacher in Tucson where 97% of students at my school qualify for free or reduced lunch. In a year of online learning, this poverty was especially noticeable.”

Teachers Struggle in Crowded Classrooms

Not only do the students at my school face poverty, but public schools throughout Arizona face impoverished funding. For the entire first quarter this school year, 43 students were in my class. Due to three teacher vacancies in August, I taught two classes of third graders on Zoom. On my small district-issued laptop, I had to cycle through three screens of faces to see everyone. “When you have something to share, keep your hand up for a long time because it will take me a while to find you,” was a common refrain.

Help Schools Help Children in Poverty - Image of children running outside.

Prioritize Public Education

Public schools should be the great equalizer where kids from diverse backgrounds learn on a level playing field. That field is in disrepair. When 43 eight-year-olds are crammed into one classroom (digital or in-person), their teacher cannot appropriately attend to individual needs, answer every question, or get to know all students personally. Despite this challenging year (made more challenging by our state which continually refuses to fully fund our public schools), my students became better readers, solved multi-step math problems, and typed essays and stories that highlighted their creativity and analytical thinking. On most days, they did so with humor, grace, and lots of newly learned technology skills. My students deserve the best, and our state must prioritize fully funding public education.

“Public schools should be the great equalizer where kids from diverse backgrounds learn on a level playing field. That field is in disrepair…My students deserve the best, and our state must prioritize fully funding public education.”

These stories were collected by Save Our Schools Arizona and printed previously as part of a project series with AZ Central. All stories are true, but names of students have been changed to protect privacy.

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