As part of the standards of service for Iowa's nine AEAs, a poverty simulation exercise is offered to develop school-community planning and address the diverse needs of families. The simulation assigns people to fictional—yet real-world—scenarios. For example, pretend you are working a minimum wage job from 3 - 11 p.m. as a single-parent with two elementary students who need child care. You don't have a car and you only have two bus passes for the week. Your child gets sick and needs to go to the doctor. How do you get there? How do you pay for the doctor visit, food, housing and child care? How can you keep your job if you have to miss work? What organizations can assist your family?
Have you ever really put yourself in the shoes of a person who faces these realities on a daily basis? The Sioux City Community School District had educators in pre-school, elementary, middle and high school participate in the AEA's poverty simulation. After presenting at the third simulation for Sioux City, Sally Hartley of Northwest AEA, took some time to reflect on the event and what the training reinforces for those who are part of it.
In her words:
At end of today, an educator came and asked me what I did to work with families and then she asked if I worked with single people and proceeded to describe her current situation saying, "Maybe I am getting all the help I can get, but I am really struggling and feeling overwhelmed with trying to get things done." She and I talked for a minute and I referred her to the Community Action Agency and one of its representatives attending the session. When we left, I was told that the educator set up some followup appointment in an attempt to set her up with some assistance, if possible.
This morning, one family group was discussing the struggles families face when one family member started talking about her difficulty trying to pay for her child to get to school. Another family member picked up her phone and, within a couple of minutes, they had arranged a transportation "pass" for the family. WOW! I stood there and watched them work together to support each other!
Three to four of the para-educators shared in the discussion or came up to staffers after the training was done and thanked us for providing such a great training. They said this Poverty Simulation really was good and helped them understand the needs of others in the community.
We had about 160-170 participants at these three sessions and had several community members (Boys & Girls Home, Community Action Agency, Siouxland District Health, Sioux City Schools) join as staffers. It was a busy time and we had three great events, but even more important were the comments and discussions shared about how we can all work together as a community to support children and families.
Thanks for giving us the chance to provide this experience! I need to also say thanks to the other Northwest AEA staff who participated and worked hard to set up, clean up and interact with the participants. We believe the biggest "take away" is that often there are factors that families cannot control which impact their ability to maintain or keep up with issues, financial or personal. We have also heard participants share many comments about how we can better support and empower families to get what they need to be more independent.