In the L-M School District, 31.28% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. In Wilton, 30.12% qualify. For West Liberty Schools, that number is 59.23%, and for the Muscatine Community School District, that number sits at 49.23%, according to the Iowa Department of Education.
While these numbers only tell a portion of each family’s story, they are used as an indication of wealth and poverty levels within the state.
Several area agencies came together to bring speaker Dr. Donna Beegle to Muscatine on April 4. Dr. Beegle is a nationwide speaker on poverty and the “impact of poverty and the road out of it.”
While in Muscatine, Beegle held several sessions with community leaders, teachers, and members of the public.
Beegle grew up in what is called generational poverty. Generational poverty is defined as a family that has lived in poverty for at least two generations, as opposed to situational poverty, which families experience due to loss of a job or illness. Beegle stated that she grew up with five brothers, and that she is the only member of her family who had not been to jail.
“Poverty teaches you that you don’t know anything,” Beegle said. She went on to describe how the American social system causes people who live in poverty to feel that their economic station is due to a fault of their own. She described how in other parts of the world, despite the income level, a sense of self-worth is intact. Beegle says that the common belief that the poor are lazy or have no work ethic plays into the lack of self-value. Through comments like these, Beegle says, “self-confidence is stolen.”
Addressing a room full of educators from around the area, Beegle provided an example of what picture day means to a student. “Pictures are your history,” Beegle says. “They tell the story of your life. But what about the student whose envelope is empty on picture day? What does that tell them about their life? About their worth?”
Beegle described working with a previous district that examined the issue to find a way to ensure that each child received a school picture, regardless of cost. She explains that creativity is possible when people are aware of the issue at hand.
“We have to examine systems from every angle,” she says. “Are we creating places where people feel they belong?”
One example provided by Beegle was how schools typically communicate with families. Most communication is through letters, flyers, and posters. If the parent is illiterate (studies indicate 21% of the U.S. population reads below a fifth-grade level), the communication is ineffective.
Beegle says she knew people couldn’t hear her, and that education, and a new way of thinking, was the only way to change that. Beegle received her doctorate degree in educational leadership. “It all started with self-confidence. That was the first step.”
Kim Warren with Aligned Impact Muscatine stated at the end of the session that the group will be putting together a group with a cross section of persons from the Muscatine area to take a closer look at poverty and its effects on people in the area. The purpose of the group will be to help raise awareness of how people are affected locally, as well as provide programs and information to help those affected.
More information on Dr. Donna Beegle can be found at www.combarriers.com.