Early College Experiences Poverty Simulation
Written by Student Services Director John Basilice
Every year Student Services engages the freshman class at the Early College in an experiential activity designed to raise a greater awareness of the impact of poverty on the lives of people in our community. This “Poverty Simulation” was designed by the Missouri Community Action Network and is designed to provide participants to role-play the lives of low-income families. Students are assigned challenging roles within low-income families. The objectives assigned to the young people are to maintain their lives and families within their assigned roles for one month.
The roles are very challenging. For example, one role includes being a single parent with limited resources trying to care for an elderly parent while having teen-agers of their own. The simulated month is broken down into four fifteen minute “weeks.” The young people are challenged to consider the role of transportation in getting their needs met, the centrality of ensuring that their families are fed and housing maintained, the difficulties prioritizing essential expenses, etc. Early College freshmen were advised that they must act within their roles. For example, if the role for a student was a 3 year-old and that family had not shopped for groceries in the simulated week that freshman had to respond in the same fashion as a hungry toddler would.
The Multi-Purpose Room at ECHS was transformed into a community complete with an employment center, a school, a bank, a mortgage company and many other vital centers. Each center was staffed by a Cabarrus County Schools employee who played the role of a person in each corresponding agency. Within these roles, sometimes the staff member is caring and compassionate at others the staff member is not very helpful. This effort represents a tremendous investment of staff time, yet we are all committed to helping creating this important moment of social-emotional learning for our Early College Freshmen. Staff from Curriculum and Instruction, Student Services, Public Relations, Administrative Services and Exceptional Children as well as staff and upper classmen from the Early College served in the roles of staffing these various agencies.
While the idea of a simulation might at first seem fun to the young people we emphasize that this is not a game, but rather a challenge to walk in the often frustrating shoes of someone living in poverty. Students learn the impact of eviction, having limited resources with excessive needs, the role human services agencies can have on their lives, etc. A facilitator processes these experiences with the students. This was an especially high-energy and candid group who shared that they often felt “helpless” and “frustrated” within the role.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a cognitive shift for the young people. First, to raise their awareness and sensitivity to the lives of people in poverty and second, to challenge them to consider taking some form of action to help people in great need. The latter might include organizing food or clothing drives, volunteering in area helping agencies or writing their elected representative to inform them of their concern for people in poverty.
Our students are left with a challenge. If they felt moved by the experience they were encouraged to put what they learned into action to help people within their community.