Round Lake school's simulation aimed to show teachers, community effects of poverty

  • School employees gathered as "families" living in poverty during a simulation at John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake that was meant to build understanding of students' needs.

    School employees gathered as "families" living in poverty during a simulation at John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake that was meant to build understanding of students' needs. Courtesy of Heather Bennett

 
 
Updated 8/21/2021 11:22 AM

After a Round Lake Area District 116 middle school took part in a social experiment simulating living in poverty, some participants left with tears and frustration over the challenges facing impoverished families and students.

"It was heavy on my heart and it makes me want to advocate for these kids," said Laura Abundes, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Magee Middle School who, in the simulation, was assigned the role of a married mother of three whose family was living in poverty.

 

Abundes was one of 105 staff and community members who took part in the hourlong Community Action Poverty Simulation on Aug. 13 in the middle school gym.

CAPS was created by the Missouri Community Action Network as a way to help people understand the realities of poverty and inspire action from community leaders. Harper College in Palatine hosted a CAPS simulation in 2018.

At Magee Middle School, participants played roles of members of low-income families and social service workers in contact with them.

Income varied for the simulated families, with $400 in groceries per week and possibly $300 in rental assistance for a family of five. The families could be recipients of food assistance or other aid, people with disabilities or senior citizens on Social Security. Family circumstances included college-educated people working minimum wage jobs, multigenerational families or single parents.

They were tasked with providing basic necessities and shelter on a limited budget during four 10- to 15-minute "weeks." They interacted with human service agencies, grocers, pawnbrokers, bill collectors, currency exchange workers, job interviewers and police officers.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The working members of the household were required to pay a certain amount for food, housing and utilities. Transportation "passes" were mandatory for members of the family to get around.

Obstacles, such as emergency payments, traffic, illness, could cost money and time. Limited food and housing benefits meant some people were turned away after spending time they needed for work or other tasks.

Many of the families struggled to live day to day, whether it was eating enough, paying their mortgage or getting to work. Roughly a third of families in the simulation were evicted or had utilities shut off. Half of the families forgot to get enough food to last the week.

Counselor Amy Taucher said it was designed to be that way.

"Nobody teaches anyone how to live in poverty," Taucher said. "We have students and parents really going through this right now."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Staff members at John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake played the role of social service providers, grocers and others during a simulation of living in poverty.
Staff members at John T. Magee Middle School in Round Lake played the role of social service providers, grocers and others during a simulation of living in poverty. - Courtesy of Heather Bennett

Afterward, participants discussed what they learned. Some of the faculty members expressed anger and cried over the thought of not being able to provide for their families.

Abundes said it was intense to see how quickly things can spiral for families dealing with multiple systems. She said that became an eye-opening experience the more real-life scenarios dawned on her.

"You're at the mercy of places and circumstances that are out of your control," Abundes said. "It was emotionally and physically taxing."

Avon Township Supervisor Michele Bauman played the role of a social services receptionist and noted the looks of frustration on people's faces after they were turned away for help.

On Facebook, she talked about how a social worker told other participants that sometimes parents miss things like scheduled parent-teacher conferences because of other problems that arise.

"Even though this was a simulation, the look of frustration on their faces was authentic," Bauman said. "This simulation is the reality for many people in our county."

Taucher said the simulation was meant to take place in 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that made it particularly timely.

Taucher said the pandemic and poverty are among many adverse childhood experiences that can affect children's ability to learn.

In Round Lake schools, about 80% of students come from low-income families. At Magee, it's nearly 85%.

Taucher and Heather Bennett, District 116 executive director of engagement and community relations, hope other schools in the district follow the middle school's lead. Taucher said she wants to make the simulation a yearly activity for the school.

"When a child's basic needs aren't met, they cannot learn," Taucher said.

"They're not adults, and we can't expect our kids to just carry on through trauma. Their brains don't function that way. We have to create that safe space for them so they can move forward."

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.