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Back-to-School Basics for the Underserved


Many elementary, middle and high school students will be headed back to school this week. Though this is an exciting time for parents, teachers and administrators, it is important to remember that some students encounter uncontrollable non-academic barriers that create burdens during the start of a successful school year.

How can students be bright-eyed and cheerful if they come from an environment where their basic needs aren’t met? According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, about 50% of kids in Georgia live in low-income families. Coming from a low-income household means there could be lack of food, school supplies, clothing, housing, healthcare and transportation. When those needs are not met, a student’s learning is disrupted.

What is needed to meet the various needs of underserved kids? William Parrett and Kathleen Budge, authors of Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools, share 5 helpful insights on what services and practices are needed to put low-income students on the path to success.

Create Full-Service Schools and Safety Nets

Wraparound services are needed to ensure students can learn. Connecting vital social and medical services with academic support provides the necessary tools to erase achievement gaps. Full-service schools typically provide services such as social workers, physicians, dentists, vision and hearing specialists, grief counselors, and family counselors on site. Some schools even provide childcare centers and on-site family resource centers to assist with basic needs.

Create Links Between School and Home

Creating a supportive connection between family and school is vital to a child’s success. No matter the level of income, parent involvement is a top factor. Tools such as parent home visits, adult education workshops and resources to overcome economic problems can develop parental and family engagement. Once problems in the home are identified it is easier to recognize and combat academic deficiencies.

Offer Mentoring to Students

Students need mentoring beginning at an early age. No longer is it an option to wait until a child is failing to help. Mentoring means providing personalized care and attention. Mentoring is a full-time, high expectation job that requires commitment. Once students have a distinct mentor, they become comfortable and vulnerable enough to speak up and ask for resources.

Provide Opportunity for Community-Based and Service Learning

There are many benefits from giving back to the community. Students who participate in service initiatives have a better understanding of community-based learning. There is an improved motivation to learn, decrease in risky behavior and increase in the student’s ability to relate to culturally diverse groups. Along with these wins for the student, service initiatives are proven to improve school image and public perception.

Use the School as a Community Center

Partnering with community organizations, local foundations, agencies, service clubs, universities, and businesses helps widen the capacity of service. By engaging parents, families and other community members it is possible to expand services to include parent support, early childhood activities, GED programs, advisory groups, community education classes, and a host of other events and activities of interest to the community.

If all high-poverty schools implement and effectively and continuously execute these steps, the achievement gap will narrow. Kids in poverty may not be able to control their parent’s financial situation, but they should be able to come to school and learn. Maybe going back to school won’t seem as hard for underserved students if they know that support is available.

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