Poverty issues encroach on the classroom too

November 29, 2018
By Joan Elliott, Librarian/Manager, Stewart Resources Centre

At a recent anti-poverty conference in Regina, sociologist Paul Gingrich cited statistics from his report Poverty in Saskatchewan–2016 which is based on Statistics Canada data. He noted that 31,000 children in Saskatchewan live in poor households, but that number does not include First Nations children living on-reserve. However, a 2016 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report by David Macdonald and Daniel Wilson entitled Shameful Neglect: Indigenous Child Poverty in Canada indicates that a shocking 60 percent of First Nations children living on-reserve live in poverty, while the children of immigrants also have a high child poverty rate of 32 percent.

Teachers confront this reality every day in their classrooms and through passion and determination, strive to mitigate the inequities associated with poverty. Their work in promoting awareness and empathy about issues related to poverty, fostering understanding about its structural and contextual nature, tailoring their teaching and curriculum to meet needs, building positive school cultures, setting up meal programs and fundraising events, and inspiring agency and action, make an important difference in the lives of their students.

Introducing the complex issue of poverty to young children in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner can be done effectively through children’s literature. A thoughtful non-fiction book on the topic is On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty by Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap. Topics such as homelessness, orphans, refugees, fundamental human rights, potential solutions around the world, as well as what children and their families can do to help are highlighted.

An inspirational book for middle years students is Shannen and the Dream for a School by Janet Wilson. It concerns the true story of Shannen Koostachin and the Attawapiskat First Nation who successfully stood up for their rights to get the federal government to replace their contaminated elementary school. 

Saskatchewan curricula provide numerous entry points for discussions of the topic. Lily and the Paper Man by Rebecca Upjohn, is a recommended book for kindergarten and Grade 1 health and social studies. It is a heart-warming story about a young girl who comes up with an action plan to help a homeless man. Hannah’s Story, a National Film Board DVD, is the true story of a Winnipeg girl whose concern about homeless people inspired her to work with others to create the Ladybug Foundation. It is an approved resource for English language arts in Grades 3 and 5 and for social studies in Grades 4 and 5.

Millennium Development Goal #1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger is a comic book created by the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation and is recommended for Grades 6 and 7 social studies. It asks readers to put themselves in the shoes of a poor family in Brazil and suggests ways to take action. Stained Glass, a novel by Michael Bedard, also deals with the issue of homelessness and is approved for English Language Arts 20.

Several books on teaching economically marginalized students are available. Disrupting Poverty: Five Powerful Classroom Practices by Kathleen M. Budge and William H. Parrett, describes a framework and action plan based on caring relationships and advocacy, high expectations and support, a commitment to equity, responsibility for learning, and the courage and will to act.
Another book packed with valuable insights is Building a Culture of Hope: Enriching Schools With Optimism and Opportunity by Robert D. Barr and Emily L. Gibson. Strategies are included for fostering optimism, pride, self-esteem, a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose–factors that can lead to student success.

To borrow these or other resources, please email src@stf.sk.ca