Poverty Simulation

Poverty-a term that makes some cringe. Today was my second day through a poverty simulation. Having had prior experience I looked forward to what I had to learn at the next level in.

It was interesting to both take part and look from the outside in. Our group were middle and high school teachers. Many of us didn’t grow up in poverty. Although looking at the provided statistics it is hard to rationalize how we may not have.

The simulation very clearly places one in a position they may otherwise have not directly experienced. We were continually reminded that it wasn’t a game, it was really a simulation.

—-1st time—

After my first time through the simulation I had to get out of the car 2x on the trip home. I was hyperventilating. The experience was absolutely horrific. In-spite trying to do everything I could to provide for others I simply couldn’t do enough. I was the ‘mother’ and primary care giver for my family. And we were never ahead. I spent the rest of the day reminding myself-it was a poverty simulation.

—2nd time—

This time, different. I was much more familiar with my group and those I was surrounded by. I was also in a different place, a dropout drug-dealing kid. While I have personal experience with neither I was able to imagine how to make that work. Let’s be honest, I stole a gun, we robbed a ton of people and my ‘mother’ went to jail-a place she preferred.  Our family ended up with a ton of money and transportation passes.


There seems to be one of three routes one can take with this. The first is the totally horrified participant who stressed; that was me my first time. The second is the casual, OK I get it, we can barely get by participant. The third being the yeah I get it, poverty is stressful participant.

In the end I think it is incredibly beneficial for us, as teachers, to experience a life beyond our own normal. Especially when we know so many of our students are growing up in environments that may be similar or even worse than what we had experience.

For me it beckons a broader questions-while this simulation helps us understand the origin of student behavior how do we structure our classes to give the students skills necessary for eventually working themselves out of the current socio-economic level? Many of our students have grown up in generational poverty that exists in our rural community-how do we facilitate gradual shifts so that students can handle stresses (especially placed on by family, friends) that occur with leaving generational poverty in addition to the one’s they are already coping with in it? How can we appropriately students to meet the challenges that each very minor step will take? How can we make sure ALL students who need support and items are provided with what they need?

Is that because we haven’t experienced them or is that because we don’t have ‘answers’?

There are a few things I know.

  1. I have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want their student to do well in our public school.
  2. While students may have ‘a plan’, we don’t always help equip them to meet the challenges that each very minor step will take.
  3. It is great to give and provide for students with weekend backpacks full of food, presents on their birthdays and Christmas this doesn’t solve poverty and simply provides a break from the everyday realities. Breaks can be hugely beneficial, especially when packaged with something stating why this is important (I really care about you, saw this and thought you would like it) for the student.

I do feel education is a key for helping students move beyond. I also think it can be the biggest hurdle. As teachers we cannot individually move a student from generational poverty. We need to embrace and know our role as teachers who: love our students, understand their current place, expose them to experiences/ideas, encourage/praise them including specificity as they tackle items, and keep our expectations high.

No one can predict what actions may shift a future. There is no silver bullet. As teachers, simulating that isn’t our goal. We need to remember our daily impact for 183 days of the year will influence, hopefully shifting students toward finding their own positive direction.