The COVID–19 pandemic has impoverished millions, and deepened the effects of poverty on those who were already struggling. It shows in loss of housing, food insecurity, acute and chronic stress, and social-emotional strain.
Poverty is entrenched in urban and rural areas, and it has worsened as businesses have failed and people have lost jobs.
“It knows no zip code in our nation,” said Lorna DeSantis, an Education & Learning Trust instructor who presented a session on "Poverty and its Effect on Learning" at the annual NYSUT conference for School-Related Professionals last weekend.
Attendees described increases in violence and addiction and mental health disorders since the pandemic took over.
It puts poor people more at risk for getting sick, DeSantis said, because higher income people are more likely to be able to work from home. Poor people rely more on public transportation, which increases risk of exposure — and also puts bus drivers at more risk. Poor people are more likely to live in crowded conditions to share expenses.
“Many of us can relate because we ourselves have experienced it,” said
Angie Rivera, president of the Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals and a NYSUT board member. “Many of our members are struggling.” Some have been laid off; others have lost their second jobs
SRPs contribute so much to the health and wellbeing of students — with transportation, security, health care, counseling and even nutrition. In Rochester, where students are not attending classes in person, “many of our students, their only hot meal was at school,” Rivera said.
SRPs have an even more essential role in the time of pandemic as students struggle with the losses in their lives due to poverty, DeSantis said.
“In order to foster resilience in students we first have to provide them with a safe and orderly environment,” DeSantis said. Educators also can provide opportunities to build positive relationships with peers and school personnel.
She encouraged SRPs to use a morning greeting, meet students by name, use positive words, and develop strong, long-term relationships. Acknowledge the situations of those who are struggling, while also giving them opportunities in school to face risks and be successful, she said.
In this day and age, it is important to note that poorer students also have less access to the internet, which denies them access to school and assignments, and success.
Without that, said attendee Undrea Polite, United Federation of Teachers, “We’re pushing our kids further and further behind.”
Food bank drive-thru set for Friday, Oct. 30 in Saratoga
To address poverty directly, NYSUT is joining with other labor unions and civic organizations to provide a regional food bank drive-thru from 10 a.m. to noon Friday, Oct 30, at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds, gate #1, in Ballston Spa.
“This is labor’s support of people in need during the pandemic,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.
Labor supporters include NYSUT, United University Professions higher education union for SUNY faculty and staff, Saratoga Area Labor Council, CSEA, Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Employees Association and IUE-CWA.