An Unlevel Playing Field: Rural Public Schools are a Lifeline From Poverty

An Unlevel Playing Field:
Rural Public Schools are a
Lifeline From 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. This piece focuses on rural schools. 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 Teaching Students in Poverty.

Amy Bowser, Contributing Writer
2nd Grade Teacher
Lake Valley Elementary School
Prescott Valley, AZ
Amy Bowser - Rural Public schools are a lifeline from poverty

Poverty reaches every corner of this state. Larger urban areas typically have more services to help families in need. In small towns, our public schools are often the main source of before- and after-school care, as well as food and clothing. This Fall I will be starting my 22nd year of teaching in rural Arizona public schools. Throughout the years I have witnessed our schools and how they have become a lifeline for students and families in need.

“Throughout the years I have witnessed our schools and how they have become a lifeline for students and families in need.”

Rural Schools Provide Support for Students and Families Experiencing Poverty

“Ben” started the school year in my first-grade classroom. He lived with his mom and older sister, who also attended the same school. The first few weeks of school he would often arrive in the same clothes that he had worn the day before. Although our school offered free breakfast, he would often arrive at school after the morning bell rang and was unable to eat breakfast. The bottom drawer of my desk is always filled with snacks; granola bars, graham crackers, saltines, and raisins. I would slip him a few snacks as we went through our morning routine. 

Teachers: An Unlevel Playing Field: Rural Public Schools are a Lifeline From Poverty

Public Schools Affect Community Health

After a few weeks I had arranged it so that on the days that he arrived after the morning bell, he would stop in the nurse’s office to wash up, eat his breakfast and oftentimes get a clean change of clothes before he headed to class. At the end of the first quarter, he moved in with his grandmother. She provided stability and made sure that he arrived in time to eat breakfast, but she was also on a fixed income and was suddenly left to raise two young children.

“At the end of the first quarter, he moved in with his grandmother. She provided stability and made sure that he arrived in time to eat breakfast, but she was also on a fixed income and was suddenly left to raise two young children.”

I was able to sign them up to receive weekend food bags (provided by our school district) so that they had food over the weekend. Both siblings were also able to take part in a few of our after-school activities and sports programs. Ben’s story is far from unique. Our schools are community centers that lift our families up. 

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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