Equity & Diversity

Simulation Program Aims to Deepen Teachers’ Understanding of Poverty

By Mary Hendrie — January 09, 2014 1 min read

An elementary school in Wichita, Kan., recently took a unique approach to sensitizing teachers to the needs of disadvantaged students, reports The Wichita Eagle. According to the January 5th article, teachers and staff members at Allen Elementary School participated in a role-playing simulation intended to elucidate the unseen challenges of poverty.

The two-hour exercise simulated four-weeks of life below the poverty line, with participating educators randomly cast as low-income individuals of varied circumstances. In their assigned roles, participants had to navigate simulated government agencies, stores, banks, and other community services in order to pay bills, buy groceries, go to work, and fulfill other assigned commitments.

This simulation, called the Cost of Poverty Experience (C.O.P.E.), has been offered around the country through a partnership of the Ohio nonprofit organizations Think Tank Inc. and CareSource Foundation, according to the program’s website. The exercise, co-developed with the participation of low-income individuals, aims to offer participants insight into the personal stories of poverty. Information about the upcoming C.O.P.E. simulations can be found here.

This exercise in poverty was especially relevant for teachers at Allen Elementary, where over 85 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the Eagle. Many of the participating teachers and staff reported that the frustrations and stresses of the exercise deepened their understanding and empathy toward real-life families living in poverty.

“I think I’m a pretty empathetic person to begin with,” Allen Elementary, principal Molly Nespor, told the Eagle, “but this has really opened my eyes.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.