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Students engage in poverty simulation

December 20, 2019

Preparing future teachers isn’t just about creating lesson plans and learning about the latest classroom technology, it’s also about learning how to become better teachers through understanding and empathy. 

Dakota State level III education students participated in a simulation that exposed the future teachers to what it’s like for families living at or below the poverty line.  

“I was 13 and had an 18-year-old brother taking care of me,” said Sydney Borer, elementary education major from Castlewood, S.D. “We’ll have kids in our classroom one day whose home lives are like that.”  

“A poverty simulation is an immersion experience in which those participating [are able to] experience first-hand what it might be like to live in poverty,” said Kindra Schneider, instructor of elementary education. “They take on the role of an individual living in poverty and need to navigate common scenarios that those in poverty often face.” 

 “There were probably 30 households,” said Sylvia Wieseler, elementary education major from Miller, S.D. “The goal was to keep your lights on, survive, buy food, and we had to do it every week.”  

“It was quite the experience,” said Courtney O’Connell, elementary/special education major from Madison, S.D., “to put yourself in that person’s shoes and see what that family went through.” 

O’Connell was a 75-year-old woman who was paralyzed, while Wieseler was a child in the scenario.  

The student participants struggled with transportation, mortgage/rent payments, potential evictions, feeding their families, and what to do when there was a school field trip or party that required money.  

“My older brother said we didn’t have the money for the field trip so my sister and I sat out of school for two weeks saying we were sick just so we didn’t have to pay to go on the field trip,” Borer said. 

The students participating in the simulation realized that the stress of poverty can impact everyone in the family, including the children. And that through school they can help offer a safe and stable place for children in need.  

“Sometimes we think, well, a kid just needs breakfast, but emotional support is huge,” Schneider said.  

“Some kids don’t even get hugs and they just want a hug from you,” Wieseler said.  

Schneider shared that a lot of the students’ conversations focused on how hard it was and how it really is about survival. Sometimes people can be quick to judge others, but Schneider hopes this helps the future educators.  

“We really want them to realize that not all students grew up in homes like we grew up in,” Schneider said.

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