Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Black Friday

In my second year working at my new school I am continuously struck by the differences between the families we serve. We are only two miles from my former school but the apartment complex we draw from and the neighborhoods around it are very, very different for being only two short miles apart.

One aspect that struck me on Wednesday as we were leaving for Thanksgiving break was that nobody wished me a "Happy Black Friday". At my former school this is what all the focus and excitement was about. Now? Nobody even mentioned it. Don't get me wrong, it saddened me  every time a student genuinely wished me a happy Black Friday, but I suppose after awhile I just came to expect it.

Maybe it is the difference between the amount of recent immigrants at each school. More children at my current school come from families who celebrate Thanksgiving itself as a traditional family holiday-not an adopted holiday from their new country. Or maybe it is the difference in socio-economic status- families who rely on Black Friday for their Christmas presents or just general household upgrades compared to families who see Black Friday as an adventure in bargain hunting but without the necessary need for the deals. I don't know, but it is a striking difference. 

Another difference I've noticed is in how kids talk about their weekend plans. In both schools I've worked in kindergarten classrooms that sing the same fun song on Friday mornings before the weekend:
"Hey there friends, the weekend is near, whatcha gonna do when it does get here?" 

At my former school the answers were all the same- play at the park at their apartment buildings, watch cartoons, or do nothing. Even getting them to come up with "watch tv" could be a stretch. Mostly they said, "nothing." Their parents worked weekends, they didn't have cars or bus fare so weekends looked a lot like every other day. Year after year it was the same weekend answers as we tried to make their tv watching Saturdays sound exciting.

Now I listen to kids excitedly discuss trips to the mall, the American Girl store, the library, or different small adventures. They aren't remarkable weekends, but I rarely hear anyone just say they are going to watch tv. Families are home with cars to get places. 

Other small differences stick out as well- the amount of kids with winter coats surprises me daily, the large amount of kids who bring lunch because their families have the time to pack it (or simply are not eligible for free and reduced lunch), the existence of the PTO, the large amount of parent volunteers, and the Vera Wang bags kids transport their birthday treats in to share with their class. (You know, I often use old Macy's bags...)

Both schools are Title One but the small differences like this remind me of the differences in poverty. There is being in the lower class, there is being poor, and there is a deep cultural difference of living in deep poverty. We can't talk about poverty like it is one universal term and that one solution for "poor families" will help all families. We can not assume all Title One schools are created equal or that all schools in the same general area serve similar students.


Anonymous said...

The difference between merely being eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (nearly 50% of all US public school students meet this definition, and e3ven more meet it at some time during their school-aged years) and extreme poverty is a very important difference and one that is consistently ignored in the media and even in educational planning. Your comment about Title I school children making excursions to American Girl stores highlights this difference. The contrast is even greater if the extreme poverty is lifelong, as it is for some of our students' parents, even though 60% of children born into the lowest income quintile escape that level as adults.

Here are some of the family situations that make a child eligible for free or reduced-price lunch but that do not cause extreme deprivation, and especially not educational deprivation: parent is a grad student; parent is in the military at a low pay grade; parent has been laid off but will soon find a job; parent is a clergy person; parent has a temporary illness or disability; parent is starting a new small business; parent is caring for an elderly family member who provides the family with a place to live; parent is an artist or works for a small nonprofit. The list goes on.

organized chaos said...

Everything you have said is so true. After coming from a "high poverty" school I have a hard time even accepting that my current school is Title One.
At times it also means we have to change our instructional practices (not lower expectations) to meet our kids where they are. What works in one a Title One school may not work in another where the needs are greater.