The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Reality Check

June 25, 2008

Every day a reality check at city’s ‘poorest’ school


The list of members in the school’s Parent Teacher Organization is likewise short: four names. As bad as that sounds, it is a 100-percent increase over the previous year.

“They are trying to survive, and education isn’t that important,” Carey says of the parents.

If Carey wants to draw parents to the school, she knows the best bait is an event featuring free food. She’s had 150 come out for the family fun/ pizza nights.

Carey also knows that the free lunch 92 percent of her students receive at the school is the only meal many of them will get that day. In the summer, the school hosts free breakfast and lunch programs, which serve up to 80 youngsters, age birth to 18. G.O. Ministries, around the corner, picks up the evening meal.

Some of the hardship is caused by bad decisions and addictions; Carey won’t deny that. But she also knows there’s an economic reality that keeps poor people poor and trapped in the cycle of entitlements.

“I’ve had parents who are very compassionate and very hardworking, tell me that when they get a job they will lose their benefits, their medical card, their food stamps,” she says. “They can make it better not working than trying to get a job that pays what a person with only a high-school education can make.”

Either way, poverty provides poor preparation for learning.

“The kids don’t have what we call prior-knowledge experience,” Carey says. For example, a teacher can’t teach about zoo animals or rural life without going back to the very basics because there are many concepts the youngsters have not been exposed to through life experience. “They have no prior experience, so we are starting at a lower level,” she says.

This fact was driven home to Carey three months after she started her job at the school. Every Thanksgiving, the staff prepares and serves a holiday dinner to the students – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie – the works. As Carey ate with the younger students, she realized the youngsters were tasting food they’d never before had in their mouths. The emotional impact was too much.

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Reality Check
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