Teachers experience struggles through poverty simulation


Tempe Union High School District teachers participated in a hands-on poverty simulation, giving them a better understanding of what it's like for families across the Valley to live in poverty.

The poverty simulation was created in Missouri by Community Action Foundation Missouri, then adopted and adjusted by Lorree Ratto, chair of Medical Humanities and Healthcare Leadership in at A.T. Still University School of Medicine in Arizona.

The simulation put participates through living in poverty for four weeks. The weeks are broken up into 20 minutes where they faced challenges like paying bills, finding a job to work, and putting food on the table.

“This way they get a glimpse of what’s happening to probably a lot of the children that they are actually teaching in school,” Ratto said.

Each week, family members had specific instructions to complete tasks, such as finding childcare and juggling limited budgets. Children went to school, adults went to work, among other day-to-day living tasks.

“It makes you realize how privileged we are today,” Ratto said. “It puts you in somebody else’s shoes and that’s a great way to build empathy.”

Unexpected, and often costly, expenses left families tight for cash, while others were evicted from their homes.

“It was frustration after frustration,” said Mike Lentz, drop-out coordinator at Compadre Academy. “It was a challenge, learning the rules of how to go about our business, that was a challenge.”

A.T. Still students and Desert Vista theatre students assisted with the simulation, acting as social service workers, employers and family members.

“It was kind of difficult trying to process everything because I knew that I had the normal stuff to do, go to school, go home,” said Gyesenia Mckemzie, a junior at Desert Vista High School. “Then there these other complications that just showed up out of nowhere.”

Armed with this experience, teachers and other faculty at Tempe Union High School District will adjust their approach when working with students.

“If something does go wrong with the student in school or a family in school, maybe try to figure out what the problem was and how they ended up there,” said Lantz.

“In my role, I hear these stories from kids, and just to take a step back and have a different perspective on it and live it for a few hours is really going to help me relate to them better,” said Sam Dentz, drop-out coordinator at McClintock High School.

While the simulation was designed for teachers, several students walked away with insights of their own.

“After experiencing it, it’s taught me a bit more about some of my fellow students that could be going through this and be more cautious about what I say and what I do,” Mckemzie said. “I think the rest of us students should go through this because it makes them think, they were privileged and they can find a way to help out other students (in need)."