Poverty or Possibilities for Urban Schools?

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It’s impossible to lead urban schools, according to popular Rochester publisher Mary Anna Towler. In her October 28th editorial Towler wrote: “The problem is that the public and community leaders expect the impossible from the school district.” Do you agree?

Few dispute that Rochester’s child-poverty rates near bottom in the nation.

And we’re not surprised by despair in Towler’s words, “And we expect the school district to provide a quality education that will set students on a path to college or a career, despite the poverty and its concentration in a large swath of the city.”

But is it poverty that blocks student success in most urban school districts? Or is it possible that we fail to pound pathways past poverty that exist for too many well-deserving youth?

As an insecure teen, 14 to be exact, I found myself out on my own after my mom died of cancer. To my surprise my education literally allowed me to hang on at first and eventually to land a job after school that kept me going. Barely able to make it to class at times, I found lifesaving tools and tips there when I did attend.

As a young adult I taught in an inner city and learned awesome lessons on survival, strength and success from my students there. Some went on to win a national debate tournament after killer hard work, genuine talent and a healthy dose of group enthusiasm. Here’s my point…

What if we tapped more teen talent for moving toward their sustainable dreams?

Both as a teen who tried to survive school while living on the street, and a young teacher bent on learning classroom skills from inner city students, I encountered endless people who dwelt more on doom than on dreams.

I’ve spent a lifetime learning to articulate how I ever made it past a rooming house in Nova Scotia at 14, and how my secondary students made it past their poverty that holds back bright and ambitious students in unfair traps.

What if we look at possibilities from a new angle, in spite of poverty? What if we work with teen brains rather than against our own? What if minority leaders guide us?

Take the growing number of American inner city disadvantaged students who deserve far more from all of us. What if we offer them a different pathway to more success – based on what they bring to class daily rather than deny them access based on what they may lack through no fault of their own?

Ok, I’ll admit – my own students do better when I treat them as if they were geniuses. And it’s true that many people I teach are more intelligent than I am when encouraged to use their strengths. At least that’s my 40-year-experience. Yours?

What if students and minority leaders collaborate to help reduce poverty and launch new


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pathways toward success for teens? Capture1