Schools Adapting to Poverty in the 21st Century

Schools Adapting to Poverty in the 21st Century

By James W. Horne, Jr., President/CEO, United Way of Greater Union County

August 30, 2015 – Volume 1, Issue 6


Students who drop out of school are more likely to be living in poverty.  We know this as evidence by countless research and also by our own assessments.  Furthermore, in lieu of school, youth usually opt for a low-wage job to try to satisfy their material wants but more for their basic needs. However, throughout New Jersey a growing number of middle and high schools in urban communities have implemented “School-based Youth Services,” programs within the school environment.  These programs are designed to meet many of the needs of students who live in poverty.  Once a student is registered in the program, they have access to a wide-range of services from meeting with licensed social-work clinicians, to going on recreational trips to professional sporting events, the theater and museums that imbue cultural relevancy among impoverished students, while also providing academic support, such as free SAT Prep classes.

These types of in-house school programs have helped curb the drop-out rate among youth. The stigma of poverty can be detrimental to young people, which can lead to behavioral problems, among other things. Again, this is the reason why we see a number of elementary schools in urban settings choosing to have students wear uniforms – to minimize the stigma of poverty.

United  Way  of  Greater  Union  County’s  back-to-school  campaign,  which  collects  school  supplies  and backpacks, has grown exponentially to meet the needs of hundreds of students. The ongoing support of local businesses and corporate donations, in making this campaign a success, is significantly valuable to the families we serve.

Poverty is a key issue that robs a child of reaching his/her full potential.   The number of students who are eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Programs in New Jersey have steadily increased since 2009 from

324,699 students to just shy of 400,000 today. This chilling statistic is the reality for so many families who are struggling to make ends meet.

Schools have had to adapt and meet the needs of its pupils in ways society has never known before. Education is a game changer and no child should be left out of the game because of their family’s income.