Next ‘community conversation' will tackle poverty’s impact on education

One Chatham | Sept. 11 @ Jordan-Matthews

CN+R STAFF REPORTS
Posted 8/18/19

The second “One Chatham” event — a community conversation sponsored by the News + Record and the Our Chatham program of the UNC School of Media and Journalism’s Reese News Lab — will tackle the subject of poverty’s impact on public education outcomes.

Scheduled for Sept. 11 at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City, the 90-minute forum will feature a conversation with five local panelists and an audience question-and-answer session.

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Next ‘community conversation' will tackle poverty’s impact on education

One Chatham | Sept. 11 @ Jordan-Matthews

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SILER CITY — The second “One Chatham” event — a community conversation sponsored by the News + Record and the Our Chatham program of the UNC School of Media and Journalism’s Reese News Lab — will tackle the subject of poverty’s impact on public education outcomes.

Scheduled for Sept. 11 at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City, the 90-minute forum will feature a conversation with five local panelists and an audience question-and-answer session. Mountaire Farms of Siler City is sponsoring the event.

The public is invited to attend the event, which will take place in the auditorium at Jordan-Matthews. Panelists are:
• Dr. Larry Savage, the principal of Siler City Elementary School. Savage was named Principal of the Year for Chatham County Schools for the 2018-19 academic year earlier this year.
• Chris Poston, the executive director of elementary and middle grades for Chatham County Schools.
• Jazmin Mendoza Sosa of Chatham Communities In Schools, who serves as the Student Support Specialist at Virginia Cross Elementary School.
• Tych Cowdin of Chatham Communities In Schools, the program director for CIS’ School-Based Programs.
• Jaime Detzi, the executive director of the Chatham Education Foundation. The foundation works to strengthen communities in Chatham County by partnering with community residents, businesses and other foundations and nonprofits to improve education opportunities for public school students.

“I grew up in Siler City and I know how it feels to have limited opportunities,” said Mendoza Sosa. “Poverty limits the possibilities of learning. The lack of financial stability impeded my parents’ ability to send me to enrichment opportunities. Now that I work at CIS of Chatham, I can see it from an educator perspective. I can see how the lack of home, food or clothes is a challenge to be able to concentrate on what is taught by teachers.”

Mendoza Sosa said students who live in poverty often don’t have access to resources such as tutoring, recreational activities or athletic programs, and they depend on volunteers, scholarships and grants to be able to access opportunities to help them pursue goals and academic success.

When schools, nonprofit agencies and government work together, she said, the collaboration minimizes the gaps created by poverty.

The inaugural One Chatham event, held in Pittsboro last May 15, addressed the subject of economic inequality in Chatham. News + Record Publisher Bill Horner III said that in gathering feedback from panelists and audience members from that event, the need for a community conversation on the subject of education was frequently mentioned.

“Education is so critical to Chatham County’s future and its economic and social development,” he said. “There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that by grade 3, a child’s academic pathway is already set, and children raised in poverty are statistically more likely to get lost by then. But we also know that with the right influences and the right approach, disadvantaged students can have opportunities to overcome earlier barriers and shine intellectually. We want to have a discussion about making that happen more often.”

Eric Ferkenhoff, the director of UNC’s Our Chatham program and an organizer of the first session, called education “the foundation to all other good things in life.”

“Poverty can steal that,” he said. “I have seen that everywhere I have lived, and I see it here in Chatham. I think the One Chatham discussion can not only let that sink in, but it can look for ways out of the cycle — poverty equals unequal education and that can lead to unfulfilled lives, stealing from the kids we care so much about and those we will look up to tomorrow. I think the panel can be a good starting point to address the impact of poverty on educational outcomes and look for solutions to the very real problem now.”

The goal of the Sept. 11 event is two-fold: the first part is awareness, to discuss the realities of poverty’s impact on education, and to discuss the struggles students who grow up in poverty have in the public education system — as well as the ways Chatham County works to help students overcome obstacles created by poverty. And second, to brainstorm as a community, through the panel discussion and an audience Q&A, what else might be done to create collaborative solutions.

“The Chatham Education Foundation is excited to participate in a forum that will further educate the community, as well as ourselves and other panelists, about the complex issue of poverty and the role it plays in public education and academic outcomes,” said Detzi, who first suggested a community conversation specifically focusing on poverty’s impact. “We also hope to walk away with a few concrete areas of focus that we as a community can tackle, one small piece at a time.”

Savage leads Siler City Elementary School, where 86.3 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals. It had been on the state’s list of what are regarded as low-performing schools, and had been given a performance grade of D, according to the state’s scoring system for schools. The school moved off the list of low-performing schools by earning a C after the 2016-17 school year, and the overall student body wound up exceeding expectations for academic growth for two years in a row.

At the One Chatham event, Savage will discuss how Siler City Elementary’s educators nurtured students beyond the state’s standards.

“For us to go from a D to a C required us to really up our overall test performance, irrespective of growth,” Savage said.

He hopes the event will lead to more cooperation between schools and their communities.

“I would like to see greater levels of networking and coordination to get all students the requisite skills for a successful start to kindergarten,” he said.

All students, according to Poston, are unique and are impacted by their situations differently.

“It will be important to educate educators on how to support students with various needs,” he said.

Chatham’s Communities In Schools, which is based in Siler City, has been serving local students and families for the past 30 years. CIS’ Cowdin said he and his colleagues have seen first-hand the “predictable consequences and outcomes poverty and adverse childhood experiences (ACES) have on our youth.”

Through the work of CIS and other organizations, as well as caring community members, Cowdin said, the community can overcome barriers to create a more equitable education opportunity for Chatham County students, giving more students a chance to succeed.

“I am hopeful this conversation will highlight successful components currently being utilized throughout Chatham County Schools, facilitate a space for new ideas and input from community stakeholders and parents working together toward creative solutions,” he said, “and to identify collaborative action steps to support our great teachers and administrators to make Chatham County the best place for all children and families to learn and grow.”

The One Chatham event will begin at 7 p.m. and include an hour-long panel discussion, followed by a 30-minute audience Q&A beginning at 8 p.m. For more information, contact Horner at bhorner3@chathamnr.com, or call (919) 663-3250.

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