Basic Needs and Learning

Basic Needs and Learning by Amber HendrixFullSizeRender (1)

When the weather and sunlight permits, I take early mornings walks with Eli, our dog. We walk through different neighborhoods, and often around an elementary school. This past Fall, while walking at an elementary school, I noticed that children began to arrive at school as early as 7:30 a.m. This is 45 to 60 minutes before the school day begins.

I began observing the dynamics of the school. Specifically, the children arriving in the ‘early’ mornings. Children were either dropped off by parents or walked to school. I wanted to understand why these children arrived so early.

One particular morning there was a young girl. There was a chill in the air. She had a jacket on and was laying with her head on her backpack next to one of the doors.

Another morning a boy, approximately 10 year old, walked onto the school grounds. He walked up to me and asked me the time. I gave it to him and he said, “Thanks”. I watched him walk into the back door of the cafeteria.  It dawned on me that he woke himself up, got ready and walked to school. His parent(s) were either still sleeping or had already left for work.

I began to notice young boys walk onto the school grounds and go straight for the back door to the cafeteria. My first thought, “Do these young boys wake up hungry and get to school to eat breakfast?”

One day I stopped the groundskeeper and asked him why these young children arrive at school so early. His first response, “They want to play on the playground equipment.” He paused and said, “Several parents need to get to work and so they drop off their children early at school.” He went onto explain that school begins this year at 8:30 a.m. instead of 9:00 a.m. as this is a Title I school. He said that breakfast is the first item of business for all students before learning begins. His comments sparked my curiosity and I began to do some research.

I pulled up the 2012-2013 United States Census, and the school’s website, to learn the average income of the households for the children in Salt Lake County and this school. The census shows that the average income, for households in the Salt Lake County is approximately $52,000.00. The average income, for households in the city for this school, is approximately $22,000.00. This is half the average income of the county. More shocking is that 52% of the children at this specific school, during the 2012-2013 school year, lived in low-income households. I therefore conclude that the top priority for administrators and teachers at this school is providing for children’s basic needs. For they understand that for learning to occur, providing for children’s basic needs first must for met.

A recent study out the Southern Education Foundation that shows that as of 2013, 51 percent of children attending public schools reside in low-income households. Taken from the study, “In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public school children. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.” It is therefore safe for me to conclude that the first priority for the majority of administrators and educators, across the United States, is to provide basic needs for our children.

Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs says that for an individual to learn, or self-actualize, she must have her basic needs met. This includes, food, shelter, clothing, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. His theory is that a child must first be provided with food, shelter, clothing and safety before higher needs are met. Therefore, for a child to be ready to learn, each day, a child must be provided with their basic physiological needs. When Abraham Maslow was alive, he held press conferences where he read the most recent statics in the news about poverty and children. Regularly discussing the socio-economic status of children across the U.S. seems necessary and appropriate.

There was a time when I did not understand the connection between socio-economic status and the effects it had on children, until I worked as a social worker and mental health counselor at Utah’s Division of Children and Family Services. The majority of the children who came into state’s custody lived in low-income and poverty households. It was my responsibility to create a team of family members and professionals to set up a service plan to meet the needs of each child. I learned that children were only able to move forward with life when their needs were met. This included a safe, stable home, intense therapy, extracurricular activities, opportunities to create relationships, and more. Interesting, it was the routine and structure of home and school that appeared to help these children thrive. Providing basic needs to a child appears to directly effect her ability to grow, develop and learn.

How many schools in your community, county or state are Title I schools? What percentage of children in your state reside in low-income or poverty households that rely on the schools to help provide the basic needs of their children? How do these factors effect the methods administrators and teachers use with children in schools?

The current socio-economic status of the majority of families, with children, necessitates them relying on the educational system to provide basic needs and structure for their children. How do we help more families provide for the basic needs of their children?

The first step is to ensure children are prepared to meet the global economy is to begin to begin the dialogue about the socio-economic status of families across the United States, in conjunction, to finding viable solutions whereby families provide for the basic needs children, to ensure they are ready to learning.

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