An Unlevel Playing Field: Poverty Puts Needs Ahead of School

An Unlevel Playing Field:
Poverty Puts Needs Ahead of School

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 Preschoolers Pay for Poverty.

Kelly Berg
High School Math Teacher
Dobson High School
Mesa, AZ
Kelly Berg - A Student's Perspective on Surviving Poverty

Thirty two AP Calculus students are staring at me in a humid room on the first day of school. “On the counter you will find everything you need for my class. Pencils. Paper. Erasers. Help yourselves. In the back of the room, I have graphing calculators you will need to learn for this year’s AP Exam. I would prefer that you have your own calculator as you will need it in college, however I understand they are expensive. You can borrow one from me, and if you are hungry and thirsty, I always have something. We will tackle some really tough math this year, and I need you prepared. I need you all in. I will be more than happy to share.” We dive into graphing parabolas and Year 26 is on its way.

Finding refuge at school

Many teachers have learned over the years that when the students don’t have their needs met prior to walking through their doorways, learning is more difficult to achieve. When the students are not fed or not equipped to be ready for the class activities, or when a student is worried because their family can’t make the rent this month and may be evicted, the quadratic formula seems very irrelevant. When they are living in a shed a few months later, solving equations is the least of their worries. But, for eight hours a day, a student can also find refuge in school with adults who care for their well being, meals, climate controlled temperatures, a place to be themselves, and a safe place to ask for help.

“If you are hungry and thirsty, I always have something. We will tackle some really tough math this year, and I need you prepared. I need you all in.”

An Unlevel Playing Field: Poverty Puts Needs Ahead of School

The cost for educators

Educators and schools are so much more than just a location to learn. We tend to the whole student. More often than not, the teacher is usually funding those student needs from their own bank account. Because we are all in. We are happy to share.

“For eight hours a day, a student can also find refuge in school with adults who care for their well being, meals, climate controlled temperatures, a place to be themselves, and a safe place to ask for help.”

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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