Six weeks into a recent school year, Communities In Schools site coordinator Donna noticed that Ricky*, a sixth grader she was working with had already been absent a total of 20 days.
It was enough of a red flag to prompt Donna to visit Ricky’s family. She found that, between Ricky and his younger brother, there was only one pair of shoes. That meant each boy attended school on alternating days – whenever it was his turn to wear the shoes. Immediately, Donna was able to get both boys new shoes and other essentials, allowing them to overcome one of many barriers that kept them from going to and performing well in school.
Heading into the holidays, when Americans will spend more on themselves and their families than at any other time of the year, it might be hard to imagine that students like Ricky and his brother struggle just to have just one set of clothes and shoes of their own.
According to National Retail Federation research, Americans will spend an average of $935.58 per person during the 2016 holiday shopping season. Candy, greeting cards, postage and flowers account for $207.07 of that total expenditure, enough to provide a winter wardrobe for an average teen boy.
But kids across the country like Ricky and his brother are living in a different reality. They wouldn’t dare dream of getting the hottest sneakers of the year.
As others around them might be getting gifts like these, poverty remains a defining and ever-present feature of many young lives, and it too often stands in the way of their education. Data from the Southern Education Foundation showed that a majority of schoolchildren – about 51%– attending the nation’s public schools came from low-income families.
Lack of shoes and basic wardrobe is only a part of their challenge. Children can have difficulty concentrating on school work if they are hungry, cold, in need of medical or dental care or have trouble seeing the teacher.
Teachers are often, even on their limited salaries, the first responders to help students too poor to afford the basics most of us take for granted. A 2015 national CIS survey of teachers found that 91% of teachers have used their own money to buy supplies; 54% provided students with meals; and 49% helped with the purchase of clothes or shoes.
But teachers can't do it all. Communities In Schools leaders and coordinators fill the gap by providing students with the essential resources they need to focus on their learning, and so teachers can focus on teaching.
For kids like Ricky and his brother, durable shoes and warm clothing was just a beginning. Donna also helped Ricky and his family acquire furniture, meet with teachers, secure counseling and tutoring for Ricky and his brother and helped the boys’ mom find a stable job.
Last spring, Ricky graduated high school and is now in college because Donna was THE ONE person who stepped forward when he needed help
During this season of giving, with a growing number of public school students now living in poverty and facing substantial challenges to stay in school, it only takes one person to make a difference in a student’s life. Click here to learn more about how you can help keep kids in school.
*The students name has been changed.