This week’s assignment topic of thinking of a person whose childhood was affected by a stressor instantly brought to mind a plethora of students who have walked through my classroom door, carrying the weight of poverty on their shoulders. Whether situational, generational, urban, or otherwise, poverty has a real effect on children. Leticia Miranda noted (as cited in Payne, 1996, p. 4) that “poor children are much more likely than non-poor children to suffer developmental delay and damage, to drop out of high school, and to give birth during the teen years.”
Thinking back to my first year of teaching, I can distinctly remember the moment when one of my precious students walked into my first grade classroom, wide-eyed as he nervously chatted with the group of friends that entered together. This typically jovial little boy seemed to have been affected by something, so I greeted him at the door and asked him how he was. He immediately responded with, “I saw a dead guy on the bus this morning!” Not recalling anything in my undergraduate textbooks or training that had prepared me for this moment, I took him aside, knelt down to his level, and asked him to explain. He responded by saying, “well, the guy was laying on the street with a bunch of blood around him and the cops were covering him up with the white sheet.” My heart sank to my toes. I quickly called my student’s older, sixth grade sister down to my room and asked if everything was ok. Quizzically, she stared at me and said, “Miss Bass (my maiden name), everything is good, why?” I probed again and asked if anything strange had happened that morning, to which she gave me the same puzzled look and said, “Miss Bass, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I relayed the story her brother had told me and finally, her eyes lit up. “Oh yea,” she said, “our bus passed a guy that got shot this morning, it kinda freaked [my brother] out a little.” I almost fell over. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This 11-year old had already suppressed a horrific event that had taken place less than an hour prior. As noted by Berger (2012), this child was already utilizing coping methods to lessen the effects of this stressful event.
I wish I could say this story was an outlier, one far different from the rest, but it’s not. Without fail, whenever a field trip is mentioned, I have always had a handful of students urgently rush up to me asking how much money it will cost, looking at me with desperation-flooded eyes after being told, and exclaiming that it will be too much for their parents (although typically parent), to afford. These are the same children who often feel the responsibility to look after their younger siblings and learn survival skills at a young age, for example, how to cook dinner over a hot stove and tuck their brother or sister into bed because no adult will be home for hours.
Children all over the globe are affected by poverty. Colombia is a country I have a special affinity for, as I have sponsored a little Colombian girl for the past six years and would love to one day visit her. Colombia’s children are affected by malnutrition, natural disasters, and violence. According to UNICEF, “forced displacement, landmine accidents, sexual violence and the recruitment of children and adolescents by armed groups are ongoing consequences of the armed conflict in Colombia” (“Humanitarian Action for Children,” 2014). To counteract these constant threats, groups like UNICEF are working to provide communities with clean water, help strengthen government entities that are working to lower the risk for disasters, provide education on environmental dangers, and offer safe places for children (“Humanitarian Action for Children,” 2014).
Berger, K. S. (2012). The developing person through childhood (6th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Humanitarian Action for Children (2014, January). In Colombia. Retrieved September 27, 2014, from http://www.unicef.org/appeals/colombia.html
Payne, R. K. (1996). A Framework for Understanding Poverty (Fourth ed., p. 4). Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc.