Topeka Public Schools’ students had the day off on Friday, February 6th so that the district’s teachers could participate in professional development activities. Lowman Hill Elementary School was the site of an exercise about poverty. Teachers from Bishop, Avondale West, Randolph and Lowman Hill Elementary Schools attended this session, which was led by representatives from Southwest Plains Regional Service Center.
At the beginning of the exercise, each teacher was given a randomly-assigned location in Lowman Hill’s gymnasium. Some were at tables while others were seated in groups. The folks in groups represented different families and they were given detailed information about their family’s financial situation. The people seated at tables each represented a different agency in the community. Some of the agencies included a school, a social service agency, a police station and an employment agency, among others. After learning about their family’s financial situation, each family member had to navigate through the town (“Realville”) and its agencies, attempting to make ends meet with the assets they were given.
This lesson was intended to simulate some of the real struggles that families living at or below the poverty level face. While teachers in Topeka Public Schools are already sympathetic to the obstacles faced by low-income families, this exercise aimed to give them a closer look at the realities many of their students and their loved ones must deal with. The teachers and principals who took part in this event had great attitudes and were open to learning about what poverty might feel like. They reported that this professional development activity was their favorite one yet.