Educators from LaVergne Lake Elementary participate in ‘Poverty Simulation’
PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

Empathy.

Seems easy enough for teachers, administrators and staff members to have empathy for their students, but following a recent poverty simulation at LaVergne Lake Elementary School, participants universally said they had a better understanding of the stress parents endure when living in poverty.

“Can you imagine the real anxiety,” said Richard Wood, a physical education teacher at LaVergne Lake.

“That’s another layer of empathy,” said Ciara Burnett, a second-grade teacher at the same school.

Like Burnett, Antonio Redmond, a third-grade teacher, said the exercise was “eye-opening.”

All three agreed kids are aware of trouble at home, especially financial trouble, and are not always able to focus on their schoolwork, concerned about grades or able to give their best in the classroom when they’re worried about whether or not they will have a place to call home that night.

“I grew up very privileged,” Burnett said, “so being in this (poverty simulation) really opened my eyes to what our kids are really thinking about.”

Burnett added, “They have a lot more going on in their life that you can’t always see.”

The poverty simulation, which is facilitated by ATLAS liaison Kim Snell, is a two-hour exercise in which teachers and staff are divided into 20 families. ATLAS is Rutherford County Schools’ program to assist families who are homeless or in transitional housing.

Other participants in the exercise represented everything from a super center clerk to social service workers, quick cash tellers, pawnshop workers, healthcare providers and other services and businesses in the community, including the police department.

Each “family” receives a packet that includes name badges, bios, background information and a recap of their family’s financial status that includes their monthly spending allowance and foreseeable expenses.

The two-hour window represents one month and is divided into four weeks.

The packet outlines various tasks each family must accomplish throughout the month.

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