Cincinnati's Crisis: How childhood poverty affects classwork

Cincinnati's Crisis: How childhood poverty affects classwork (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - The first day of school is always a chaotic time for students, parents, and teachers.

At many schools, that chaos usually ends in a few days. At many inner city schools, every day feels like the first day of school. The constant change takes its toll on everyone involved. The school year calendar for Cincinnati Public Schools: day one, August 17, Carson Elementary in Price Hill. The staff knew the student population would change dramatically as the year went on, dozens of new kids coming in, dozens of others gone. And three months after the first day, the reality of life in a low income school is apparent.

In fifth grade, there were 82 children on the first day in four classes. In December there were 100.

Fifth grade teacher Margie Dimuzio said, “Since the 17th of August when school started, I've had four enrollments in August that were new, three in September, nine in October, and two in November.”

And in a first grade team of two homerooms, “Since the first day of school, on our original list, we have eight on the list. Never showed up at all. Didn't come to school. We never met them. Eight new students since August, and six have gone since August,” said teacher Kim Kemen.

Ninety-five per cent of the students at Carson were below the poverty line. Low income families move a lot, getting a job, losing a job, getting evicted, finding a home. It's incredibly disruptive. Many of the students carry their belongings with them because they want to keep them nice. If they share a space they're not used to, their brother and sisters might be tearing up books, or tearing up notebooks. And if it's tough to concentrate at home, or if that home changes every few months, it's tough to concentrate at school.

Kids who changed schools a lot were more likely to fall behind in their studies. At age 11, Alee Smith has started over four times. Four different schools since kindergarten all due to a variety of family circumstances; mom's marriage, divorce, building being torn down. It's been a challenge for Allee to get comfortable, place after place.

Parent Kendra Smith said, “As far as the child is concerned, maybe adapting to the new atmosphere. Not necessarily the school, but the kids at the school, it can be trying.”

Whenever a new student moves in, the child is assessed and given whatever special assistance, such as tutoring, needed. But it's not just academics. Cincinnati Public has the same curriculum city wide which helps when kids transfer within the district. But there's more.

Dr. Ruthenia Jackson, Carson School principal, said, “They have to learn what we call the ‘Carson Way.’ They have to learn our rules, our procedures, our expectations.”

But figuring it all out takes time and new kids come in daily,” Just this week, and this is just Wednesday, we've enrolled 12 kids from kindergarten up to sixth grade,” she said.

As for Alee Smith, mom said things were working out at Carson but she'd like to move to the suburbs. Still, is it worth changing schools again?

One thing they do know at Carson, with so many kids moving in and out it's almost like every day is the first day of school.

CLICK HERE for more on the battle against childhood poverty.

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