School counselor offers tips for understanding rural poverty

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Sherry Slankard is a school counselor with more than 25 years’ experience working with at-risk youth through foster parenting and crisis intervention for runaway youth. She is currently site manager of an after-school program and serves as a school counselor in Olney, Illinois. Sherry became a lifetime certified trainer of Bridges Out of Poverty in 2014. She is an advocate for students and families living in poverty. Through her advocacy, she has facilitated workshops, coordinated a poverty simulation, and served on committees to address the lack of mental health services in rural communities. Her article on rural poverty was featured in the quarterly journal of the Illinois Association for Supervision and Curriculum Design. From the article:

“As I sat in a parent-teacher conference many years ago, I recall the teacher hovering above me as if she was correcting me in some way. She pointed to the papers below showing graphs and a lot of words, which, by the way, I found extremely overwhelming. In addition, she described behaviors of my son that she didn’t like. He would complete his work early, pretend his pencils were football players, and proceed to have a football game on his desk. You see, my son is very smart, creative, and active. I am sure it was a distraction to her, and the words she used to describe my son were quite different than mine. The meeting lasted a bit longer. I don’t remember the specifics of the rest of the discussion, but I do remember how she made me feel. I left that meeting feeling angry at her for verbally attacking my son and me.

“Push forward many years later after I received formal education when I began providing workshops for educators. This same teacher attended one of these workshops. After the workshop, she approached me and said, “I’m glad to see you made something of yourself.” All those feelings of our prior meeting quickly returned. Lucky for her, over time my learned response has been to politely smile and nod as a way of keeping the peace while my inside voice was telling her off!

“Is this teacher a bad person? Of course not. This was my perception of the events that occurred. During my first interaction with the teacher, I was a single mom in generational poverty and lacked many resources…”

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This post was written by aha! Process

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