An Unlevel Playing Field: A Student’s Perspective on Surviving Poverty

An Unlevel Playing Field:
A Student’s Perspective on
Surviving 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 The Reality of Poverty for Rural Students.

Yvette Barrera,
High School Student
Poverty: An Unlevel Playing Field, A Student’s Perspective on Surviving Poverty, female student in front of laptop elearning

School is a hard thing for many students, but how hard is it for students in poverty? I can’t answer that question for every student who has been in poverty, but I can tell you my experience on how poverty has affected me, my education, and my family.

Poverty and housing insecurity during the pandemic

Money has always been a problem for my family. We’ve never had enough to buy the things that we needed. But it wasn’t until the last couple years of my education that money became a huge problem. In August of 2019, my family and I lost our home and had to move into a hotel. Then the pandemic hit and made things worse, it became harder to get into housing. During my senior year, I was stuck in a single room hotel with my parents and brother. Luckily we were able to afford a room; I don’t know what would have happened if we couldn’t. One of the only reasons we can afford the food that we eat is because of the food stamps we get monthly. Good thing because groceries are expensive, same as before the pandemic.

“Then the pandemic hit and made things worse, it became harder to get into housing. During my senior year, I was stuck in a single room hotel with my parents and brother. Luckily we were able to afford a room; I don't know what would have happened if we couldn't.“

Poverty: An Unlevel Playing Field, A Student’s Perspective on Surviving Poverty, female student in front of laptop elearning

Medical care is one of the few things I don’t have to worry about, thankfully. My mom is legally disabled and gets free medical care, which expands to the rest of my family. It’s a good thing too because the summer before my senior year I had an allergic reaction and went into anaphylactic shock. Because of the free medical care my mom gets, we were able to afford the trip to the emergency room, my medicine, and epipen.

The toll poverty takes on your mental health

Access to technology is another thing that can be hard. In the beginning of high school I had a phone that was made in 2016. As the year went by the phone started messing up, it would take forever to load. Having a phone that is slow doesn’t do well for online classes. If my school didn’t offer laptops to students that needed them, I wouldn’t have been able to take my classes. My family couldn’t afford to buy me a new phone or a laptop for class.

"If my school didn't offer laptops to students that needed them, I wouldn't have been able to take my classes. My family couldn't afford to buy me a new phone or a laptop for class.”

My mental health was affected by growing up in poverty. Having to constantly worry about money and whether or not you’ll have a roof over your head at night. Having the stress all pile on as you lose your mind to your inner demons as they question you about why you continue to fight even when you feel like it’s pointless. That’s the biggest thing when it comes to poverty, the voices in your head telling you to quit.

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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