School staff learn about challenges of living in poverty

For those who have never experienced poverty it is hard to imagine what is involved in navigating that day-to-day life. The stress and uncertainty play out in such ways that drastically impact high school graduation and college attendance rates for children and young adults in Illinois. University of Illinois Extension recently partnered with Dream Center Peoria and East Peoria Junior High to walk the school’s 200+ teachers and staff through a poverty simulation to help participants rethink poverty and become part of the solution.

“We want to bring that education and awareness and hopefully start even a deeper conversation about how teachers can respond to the issues they face on a daily basis in their classrooms,” Scott Estes, Associate Superintendent said.  

The poverty simulation, licensed through Missouri Community Action Network, addresses the challenges of living with limited resources and an abundance of stress. Participants are assigned specific roles in a family and given real-life circumstances to work through. The role play or simulation is a powerful way to convey the real world obstacles of securing food and shelter, maintaining the family, and negotiating support systems, agencies, and the real world.

Brian Uhlenhopp, Dream Center Peoria director of development, explained, “Everything we did {in this simulation} is grounded in reality.”

Throughout the simulation participants were faced with tough situations such as home eviction, jail time, double billing for utilities, loss of job, lack of transportation, and enticement into criminal behaviors in order to survive.

Many of the EPJH staff went through the simulation in the role of children and teenagers. When asked to describe their emotions during the simulation they used works like shear panic, helpless, anxious, lost, alone, and overwhelmed.

“Bottom line, when Dream Center goes through something like this the things that jump out at us are: 1) kids are the ones falling through the cracks;” shared Uhlenhopp, “2) poverty is less of a resource issue and more of a mindset issue (there were enough resources in the room to lift everyone up, but the pressure caused people to not find the resources and they just didn’t know); and 3)relationships are even more powerful to get out {of poverty} then resources alone.”

Following the event, Estes stated that the EPJH school principals reported both formal and informal conversations are happening and will continue to happen about the experience and action steps needed next.



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