The Pathway Out of Poverty

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*Let me first preface this post by saying that education is not the only pathway out of poverty; however, it is an extremely important one.*

As a special education teacher at two very different schools in the United States, I see a lot.  I see a lot of positive change in the students and families that I serve, and I see a lot that I wish were different.  I'd like to examine the hypothesis that education and economic growth go hand-in-hand (from the video below) by introducing you to the two schools where I work.  

We'll call one of my schools Oak Elementary and the other Maple Elementary.  Students attending Oak Elementary generally come from very wealthy families.  School is a high priority for each family, and parents are typically well-educated with successful jobs.  At Maple Elementary, my students come from poverty.  95% of them qualify for free or reduced lunch, and their parents are often unemployed or working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet.  

Ricky, from Oak Elementary, has grandparents who are millionaires.  Ricky's dad owns a large company, and his mom works in sales at the company.  Ricky has season tickets to the local NBA team's games, and his family can afford to pay a private tutor (me) twice a week.  He may have a learning disability, but I have no doubt that Ricky will be just fine in the "real world" one day.  Because his family makes education a priority, Ricky should be able to find gainful employment and make a life for himself and his future family.

Chris, on the other hand, attends Maple Elementary.  I would like to say that his outcome looks as good as Ricky's, but let's be honest: Unless a lot changes in the next few years, that's just not realistic.  Chris misses 2-3 days of school per week on average.  His dad is employed as a janitor, and his mom is unemployed.  Neither graduated from high school.  When I send home sight words for Chris to study, I feel like my efforts are futile because I know that his parents cannot read the words or help him practice.  Though Chris has the exact same disability as Ricky, I worry for Chris's future.  Because of his lack of education, he may be stuck in the seemingly endless cycle of generational poverty.  As the video below says, Chris will have to "face the challenges of life with one hand tied behind his back."

Not only is education important because it helps to provide real jobs for families like Chris's, but it is also a great source of economic growth for countries as a whole.  This is true for America, and it is also true for developing countries around the world.  

Parents, invest in your children's futures by sending them to school.  Students, make your best efforts to learn all you can while you have the opportunity.  And educators, let's work together to make sure that every child has a fair chance at a great life.  

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About the author


Mary Rachel Fenrick is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, where she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Education and a minor in Spanish. She currently teaches Special Education and English for Norman Public Schools in Norman, Oklahoma. Some of her passions include reading, writing, editing, teaching, distance running,…

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