November 27, 2020

Poverty simulation helps students understand different communities

While driving down several main streets in St. Louis, it’s likely there will be someone with a sign that reads “Homeless” or “Foreclosed home, will work for food.” These are examples of people who most likely live in low-income homes or are victims of poverty.

The Missouri Association for Community Action (MACA) works to make citizens aware of the problems occurring in certain communities.

“We are hoping students are much more attuned to the pressures of the stresses that come with living with low income in this country,” assistant education professor Diana Cooper said. “Not to assume a child doesn’t have their homework because they’re lazy, but perhaps there is something else going on at home.”

On March 20 in the Sunnen Lounge, MACA held a poverty simulation for the Webster community, and for other schools and organizations such as the YMCA and Creative Dramatics. The simulation was used to allow others to experience the lives of those in poverty. The participants were broken off into groups of three or four and became familiar with the given scripts of various living and financial situations.

All of the participants were education majors. Students were given mock-situations where they each had different low-income occupations. The occupations were: utility collector, banker, interfaith services worker, child care, social services and general employer, to name a few. All of the assembled “families” were given an hour — which represented four weeks worth of time, during which they would figure out how to survive. There were families with multi-generations that included members with health issues and those with a single parent and several children.

As the “weeks” progressed, survival became more difficult. During progression, families began to lose their homes while trying to maintain sustainability. When the bank foreclosed a home, their seats were turned upside down in a pile symbolic of a “put out” of families’ belongings. When foreclosure occurs, it complicates financial situations further, which caused the some participants to burglarize surrounding neighbors.

“It was eye-opening,” Department of Teacher Education member Sheila Jordan said. “My family got evicted and we all felt bad about it…it was interesting watching the adults try to do everything, which was very frustrating.”

Children and parents grew frustrated as the exercises became more intense. There was one particular family that did not visit the grocery store for three weeks. The daily errand routines became short lived because agencies closed their businesses down and sent large amounts of people back home. Upon returning home, these families are forced to add another item to pay to their long lists of stress.

“They realize how frustrating it is for some people and I think they will be a little more understanding of their students and their background when dealing with them,” Jordan said. At Webster University the course EDUC 3150, and the practicum course EDUC 3155, are offered, and both class have three section. All three sections attended the event as part of their class. Associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education Maxine Bauermeiste, said students will gain a better understanding of what resources are available for families in poverty and how to help them find those resources.

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