Extension, Midland staff engages in poverty simulation

Extension Director Jennifer Fischer manned the general employer booth at the poverty simulation at Midland MS/HS on Jan. 3. Here, Industrial technology teacher Ryan Streets stops by the pick up his paycheck after a week of work. Many of the families heavily relied on their weekly paychecks.

Nanci Null with the Extension worked at the food pantry. Midland Principal Carol Reilly stops by to see how much food she can get to feed her family. (Photos by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Midland School District staff spent part of their recent professional development days walking in the shoes of someone living in poverty.

     On Jan. 3, Jones County Extension and Outreach facilitated the poverty simulation program, providing a morning session at Midland MS/HS and an afternoon session at Midland Elementary in Oxford Junction.

     Staff were randomly placed into family units, and instructed to take on their character’s persona. There were several demographics presented:

     • Family of five – head of household is recently unemployed. The daughter is pregnant.

     • Family of three – the male is living with his girlfriend and her child in a homeless shelter.

     • Family of four – parents are employed and receive food stamps. They have one daughter and an elderly parent who lives with them due to health issues.

     • Family of four – single father is taking care of his young son and daughter. The daughter has a 1-year-old child and is also attending college.

     • There are also scenarios for four homeless individuals.

     The poverty simulation was instructed by Jacki Luckstead, youth development program specialist with Jones County Extension. She was assisted by several Extension staff, as well as community volunteers.

     The program lasted roughly an hour, with 15 minutes equivalent to 1 week in a family’s lifetime. At the end of the program, the Midland staff spent a month living in poverty.

     “This is to help understand how families may struggle throughout the month to meet all of their needs,” said Luckstead.

     There were several community service stations set up around the gym at Midland MS/HS that the families may have to utilize from time to time: police department, jail, pawn shop, quick cash, food pantry, healthcare services, general employer, bank, super center, utility company, homeless shelter, school, childcare services, inter-faith services, social services, and mortgage/realty.

     “The idea is to sensitize yourself to the day-to-day realities of a low-income family,” explained Luckstead. “Many people in our communities live in poverty.”

     She said we all need to become aware and more sensitive to the needs and stresses of children living in these types of situations as well.

     Before the simulation began, the Midland staff was asked to fill out a pre-survey with statements pertaining to low-income living within the community. “People with low income do not have to work as hard because of all the services available to them.” “People with low income could get ahead/improve their situation if they could just apply themselves differently.”

     Luckstead said, “The surveys are to measure the change of attitude/sensitivity to low-income situations.”

     Then, following the close of the program, the same survey was handed out again. This time, participants were able to respond with some background in what they learned.

     She said there were some changes in people’s perceptions from the pre-survey to the post-survey.

     One Midland staff member remarked: “I got to feel the struggles and stress of a low-income family.”

     Throughout the simulation, children are sent to school, parents go off to work and then are fired, families run out of money and have to seek assistance or have to pawn off their possessions.

     “They learn that many family stresses may be beyond the family’s control,” explained Luckstead. “They may be more sensitive to the repeated requests of families in need.”

     She said community services/resources such as the food pantry, churches, or social services also have to work within their own guidelines and limitations of their individual agencies.

     Overall, this was a successful day for both the Extension and Midland School District. Luckstead said they received several positive comments, and there was some great discussion during the debriefing.

     “The staff was engaged in the experience,” she said.

     The poverty simulation is available through the Extension to large groups, preferably of 40 or more.

     “Extension and Outreach is here to bring educational opportunities to the communities,” offered Luckstead. “Learning about the needs of our communities is important.”

     You can contact the Extension at 319-465-3224.



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