'Fighting poverty, not the students and families living it;' teachers train ahead of school year

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Teachers these days do more than just teach. Students can come with needs beyond academics, especially when their families are tackling poverty, which is why teachers, educational leaders, community members, and even some state representatives took training on poverty ahead of the new school year.

"To remove the poverty obstacles. To fight the poverty, not the students and families that live in it," Dr. Donna Beegle, Communication Across Barriers President said to a school commons full of teachers. That is the goal for those teachers this year, leaving no student behind because of their circumstances.

"If a kid isn't making it in school, there's a reason and it might be related to affordable housing, living wage jobs, access to nutrition," she said.

Beegle lead the training, speaking not only from studying the topic, but living it herself.

"I was born into generation migrant labor poverty," she explained. "Most of my family members can't read or write. I have five brothers. I'm the only person not incarcerated. I dropped out of school at 15."

She said there are a lot of misunderstandings about people living in poverty.

"Most people don't know that two-thirds of the people in poverty are working more than one job and they can't afford rent," she stated, "so we worked today on dispelling some of the stereotypes and myths so that we can align to fight poverty, not the people who live in it."

"This is probably the number one concern I have working in the Wausau School District, in the Wausau area," said Wausau East High School's Academic Enrichment and Intervention Coordinator, Kelly Rohr. "Poverty is a huge issue and there are so many people in our community who are so willing to pass blame on this group of people, but not understand why. Because who wants to live this way?"

Rohr said the key to helping these students succeed is by building relationships to learn specifically what the need.

"Getting to know the kids, getting them to trust you and getting them to realize that you actually like them and you're not going to give up on them," she said. "It's more than just not wanting to work hard. It's not that, it's just so much more."

If you would like to be part of the solution to the issue of poverty in your community, Dr. Beegle encourages you to join meetings and trainings about the issue and to get involved in your schools and poverty-fighting non-profits.