Combating poverty starts with awareness

Combating poverty starts with awareness

27 Apr 2016    

Victory in America’s war on poverty continues to be elusive. The ongoing battle is waged on many fronts across the country, but the impact on children is especially concerning. The statistics are painfully clear that children who grow up in poverty often struggle to find success in school, and as a result, are economically challenged in their adult lives. It’s a pattern that is tough to break.

Shavonna Holman has seen first hand the difficult struggles of children and families from low-income backgrounds. For 13 years she taught or was an elementary assistant principal in urban schools in the Omaha Public Schools. She’s a believer that education is the ticket out of the cycle of poverty, and she’s motivated to help make that happen for more kids.

“The school is the perfect place to start,” says Holman, assistant professor of practice in the Department of Educational Administration (EDAD). “There are so many services that we can provide in the school building to children and families, and many of the services extend outside the school building. Once we get them set up, it’s easier for parents to seek out additional resources or at least be more comfortable coming to the school to ask for help.”

Schools are a safe haven for kids. They get structure, safety, food and a variety of special support services. From sending home backpacks full of food to transitioning refugee children into the classroom, schools are on the front lines of the war on poverty. Sometimes parents don’t know where to turn for help and aren’t aware of the help that is available. Schools are an important hub for connecting families to essential support in the community.

Shavonna Holman
Assistant Professor of Practice Shavonna Holman is helping to lead EDAD’s annual Critical Issues Forum on Poverty.

Opening a dialogue and having meaningful conversations about poverty is a great place to start building awareness of exactly what poverty is, what impact it has on children and what can be done about it. That’s the idea behind EDAD’s annual Critical Issues Forum on poverty.

“There are other critical issues which do need to be addressed, but right now we’re on a roll with this one, and in my opinion it’s probably the most important right now,” said Holman. “I look for the conference to get bigger every year.”

Students, faculty, staff, teachers, school administrators, community leaders and others were gathered March 14 for the most recent poverty forum at Southeast Community College in Lincoln. Participants heard from a diverse group of presenters from government leaders to social service agency directors.

Speakers included:

  • Ben Gray, Omaha city council member
  • Cynthia Gooch, associate vice president of equity and diversity, Metropolitan Community College
  • Bryan Seck, homeless outreach specialist, Lincoln Public Schools, and
  •  Patrick McNamara, director of international studies, University of Nebraska-Omaha

Program strands were:

  • Public policy and faith-based
  • Higher education
  • Services
  • Diversity in higher education

Following each strand, participants broke into smaller groups to interact with the speakers and to dig deeper into the issues of poverty.

“As educators, we need to make it our duty to be at the front of the race trying to impact the war on poverty,” says Holman. “It starts with conversations. Because we don’t know everything, it’s important to make personal connections with individuals who provide service, and then be vigilant in sharing information in any way that we can.”

Omaha City Council Member Ben Gray shares his views about poverty from a community leadership perspective. (Photo by Brooke Sullivan.)
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