California teachers have poverty simulation

Lining up at the bank during the poverty simulation at California High School.

Lining up at the bank during the poverty simulation at California High School. Photo by David Wilson.

A poverty simulation event was held at the California High School Monday, Nov. 12, sponsored by Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA).

Facilitators of the event were Evan Melkersman, CMCA Community Organizer for Cooper, Howard and Moniteau counties, and Angela Hirsch, CMCA Community Services Director.

During the simulation, participants engaged in role-playing activities. With low-income volunteers playing the part of various resources in a community, the teacher participants portrayed members of low-income families. The roles ranged from single parents trying to take care of their children to senior citizens trying to get by on Social Security.

Each "family unit" is to provide food, shelter and other basic necessities during the simulation at the same time interacting with various community resources staffed by volunteers.

The simulation comes as a kit, with instructions on how to run a simulation, sample invitation letter and news release. It includes facts about poverty, suggestions about what people can do.

Instructions and accessories are included for each community resource, including welfare office, pawn shop, school, bank, police station and grocery store. The accessories include calculators, clip boards, money boxes, play money, homework, Social Security cards, name badges and, of course, forms.

According to Melkersman, the "community" includes faith-based, school, state, private and business resources.

Also included are 26 family packets. Each has a family scenario and includes such necessities as play money, appliance cards and transportation passes.

During the simulation, teachers were assigned to certain families in bad circumstances and had to jump through the hoops necessary to make a living, shop for needs and find assistance.

"The purpose of the poverty simulation," said Melkersman, "is to provide an experience for individuals who have never experienced poverty, to get a glimpse of what living with a low income might be like.

"A low income family," he said, "is a family which cannot meet their basic needs without assistance from public, community, family, faith-based institutions and non-profit organizations."

The "daily needs" were explained as food, shelter, clothing, health care and schooling. In some areas, inner city and rural, transportation might be considered one of these hard to attain basic needs.

Melkersman said a goal of the simulation is to "identify local strategies to address the causes and conditions of poverty at the local level."

The exercise included an end-review to determine what the participants may have learned.

One fact that the participants agreed on was the "snowballing" effect of poverty. For example, while trying to keep the family fed, the rent didn't get paid, or the power got cut off.

Since the participants were for the most part teachers, there was an awareness that school and homework might be of a lower priority for some. When a student is not completing assignments, failing to keep up with assignments or failing to complete homework on time, teachers send out a lot of notes.

If there is no response, Melkersman said, "The first thing teachers think is that the parents don't care. In reality, homework may not be high on their list of priorities."

It may be because of other struggles or because they are at work for long hours.

According to Melkersman, 60 percent of the people CMCA serves work full-time.

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