Teaching promising students who live in poverty
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Teaching Promising Students Who Live In Poverty. Lisa L. Swope Radford City Public Schools Spring 2013

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Teaching Promising Students Who Live In Poverty

Lisa L. Swope

Radford City Public Schools

Spring 2013

Based on Conference Proceedings from the National Leadership Conference on Low-Income Promising Learners, edited by Joyce Van Tassel-Baska and Tamra Stambaugh and published by the National Association for Gifted Children and the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William & Mary

Some flowers are planted, nurtured, and grow into what they were created to be.

Rooted, nurtured, optimal conditions creates an easier path to success

Others must overcome great obstacles if they are to survive at all.

Insecure attachment, neglect, less than optimal environment creates obstacles to success

Children of plenty have early needs met, are nurtured, and are primed to reach their full potential.

Primed to reach full potential

Children of poverty have needs that are unmet, are often neglected, and their potential is rarely realized.

Unmet needs and undeveloped potential

Poverty in the United States

  • The U.S. has more poor children than any developed nation in the world

  • One in five children is poor; one in four children in school is poor

  • One third of all children born in 2000 will experience poverty at some point in their lives

America’s Children

Some Truths of Poverty

  • There is no “typical” low income student; poverty’s effects depend on when poverty occurs, the depth of poverty, and its duration

  • Poverty is not caused by a student’s membership in a specific race or ethnic group; it is based on their family’s income level

Some Truths of Poverty

  • The poor move often; 22% of children under five have moved in the past year

  • 14% of the GDP is spent on health care (more than any other nation) and the U.S. is 24th in life expectancy

  • In Texas and Arizona, only 25% of the state’s citizens have health insurance

  • One in five children has no health insurance

Some Truths of Poverty

  • 47% of poor families are headed by a working single mother

  • 16.9% of US children are poor; 9.7% of people over 65 are poor; and 11.8% of all other ages are poor

  • Poverty amplifies all other negative factors in a child’s life

Obstacles to Education

  • The poor often feel they have little control over fate

  • Suffer from low self-worth

  • Have seen unhealthy generational patterns modeled in their households

  • Parents’ low educational levels

  • Specific negative cultural attitudes toward school and learning

Students Face Obstacles to Education

  • Family obligations beyond achievement in school

  • No money for extra educational opportunities

  • Low family expectations (and lower teacher expectations)

  • Peer group influence

  • Low SES schools tend to focus only on teaching to the test, leading to underachievement for the “invisible” gifted child

The Invisible Gifted Child

How to Serve Promising Students of Poverty

  • Challenge through a rigorous curriculum

  • Raise expectations

  • Incorporate a triad of support: teacher/mentor/parent

  • Access to extra-curricular academic programs

  • Early intervention (quality pre-school)

Effective Identification Procedures

  • Non-biased testing

  • Multiple assessment measures

  • Allow anyone to refer students

Effective Curriculum

  • Challenging and rigorous

  • Built-in support strategies

  • Opportunities for creativity

  • Opportunities outside the classroom (summer enrichment experiences, field trips, etc.)

Effective Instruction

  • Hands-on science

  • Flexible grouping

  • Early algebra (calculus before graduation)

  • Advanced curriculum

  • Advanced Placement

  • Dual Enrollment

  • Family involvement

  • Outside opportunities (Jack Kent Cook Foundation; Gates Foundation; Summer Residential Governor’s Schools)

Effective InstructionRigor, Rigor, Rigor

  • Opportunity to “test out”

  • Enriching content

  • Problem-based learning

  • Engaging research

  • Opportunities to examine data and to question assumptions

  • Teach study skills

Effective Support

  • Preparing for college (financial forms, applications)

  • Involve families and mentors

  • Publicize scholarship opportunities for summer and after-school programs (Virginia Association for the Gifted)

  • Steer toward help for the psychological and emotional issues that come from poverty


  • Most talent is nurtured or lost between birth and five years of age; much giftedness in poor children is emergent and must be nurtured before it can be identified

  • While crime rates are down, infant murder continues to soar….an infant is ten times more likely to die on the day of his birth than any other day in his life. Income data is a good predictor of who lives or dies


  • A haphazard approach to childcare and pre-school programs in the U.S.

  • When all children are in a high quality pre-school together, children of privilege and children of poverty do equally well

Our Challenges

  • Underfunded schools….students in poor areas report an average 38 books in the home; students in prosperous areas report an average of 108 books in the home

  • Less public money is spent on poorer schools than on wealthier schools

  • Teaching to the test is most common in poor schools; minimum competency requirements stress being adequate, and not reaching toward a student’s highest potential

Our Challenges

  • Research has done an incomplete job sorting out the multiple causes and effects of poverty, making it harder to develop strategies to compensate

  • Teachers struggle to implement strategies to help promising students of poverty due to the current focus on standards assessment

  • Only 1/3 of homes have children; reluctance of voters to support funding for education

Effective Coping Strategies of Promising Students of Poverty

  • Confronting

  • Reframing

  • Persisting

  • “Showing” them

  • Working harder

  • Armoring

  • Ignoring

From One Who Made It

“Poverty. Oh, it’s the absolute truth. It had to do more with the impact on your self-concept. I wore hand-me-down clothes…It was a struggle just to look nice everyday. You look at folks, and I knew I was smarter than they were, but they had so much more. That was probably one of the biggest obstacles, along with favoritism toward young women with long hair and light skin.

From One Who Made It

First off it was my mother (who encouraged me) and the fact that she thought education was important and then she instilled that in us. Secondly it had to be my aunt and uncle who valued that and wanted it. And thirdly it had to have been my teachers. Their expectations were high. They were very strict. They demanded a lot. They gave you a lot of love. You knew they really cared about you. Even when they were being what we call ‘mean.’ They were my role models.”

And From A Teacher

“Fellow citizens, why do you turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth and take so little care of your children, to whom one day you must relinquish all?”

~ Socrates

Our Task

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