WHAT’S THE ISSUE?
The link between poverty and education has consistently proven to be a deeply intertwined relationship. Studies show that high levels of poverty and lack of access to education can prohibit proper social, physical, and intellectual growth in the youth. In Athens-Clarke County, the poverty rate is currently 28.3%, which translates to approximately 11,000 households in the county living in poverty. This has a direct affect on the quality of education for students of all ages, as impoverished students must overcome more barriers to access education and often aren’t met with a K-12 system that caters to their circumstances. Close to 10,000 Clarke County residents above the age of 25 did not receive high school diplomas. This results in a gap in the county’s local economy in terms of personal income. If these individuals were able to complete their education and gain a college degree, an estimated $288 million could be added to Clarke County’s economy.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT CHILDREN’S WELL-BEING?
Students who face issues of poverty need help managing their educational and personal growth and building a healthier future for themselves. Low-income students are more vulnerable to certain barriers at home and at school, which restricts their academic potential. Neglect, mental health issues, hunger, and domestic instability have a large impact on a student’s psychological and emotional health. This all lends itself to an environment that does not cultivate a high performance in the classroom. Impoverished children fall behind their peers of higher socioeconomic status in terms of academic grades and standardized test scores, as they are often dealing with lack of access to transportation, proper nutrition, healthcare and exercise. All of these factors can lead to consistent distraction which lessens their ability to absorb information. Along with these setbacks, students who aren’t able to further their education face a struggle with homeownership later in life. Studies show that those from low-income backgrounds are five times more likely to drop out of high school. This corroborates data from the The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey which shows that individuals who haven’t obtained their high school diploma have the lowest rate of home ownership in the United States. Such factors perpetuate the cyclical nature of poverty and its unfortunate effects on generations in a community.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?
There is hopeful sentiment among many in Athens to implement efforts that will cultivate an environment geared toward student success as well as create opportunities for students to break into a higher standard of living post-graduation. The first step towards unlocking students’ full potential involves raising awareness of and providing access to family assistance programs and transportation services. A stable home environment is conducive to a more successful learning experience for a young person and can open doors to a better future.
Along with these initiatives, opportunities for students to set goals and envision feasible pathways to graduating high school and pursuing higher education are necessary. Programs that prepare students for standardized testing, increase communication efforts between teachers and students, and boost morale in schools influence students’ GPA, exam scores and overall attendance.
To break the cycle of generational poverty in Athens, the access to and quality of education must be addressed along with high poverty rates. Access to an education that teaches the skills necessary to be successful in the workforce will provide a stable foundation for a financially independent and healthy lifestyle. Given the ability to surpass these barriers, the community’s youth can find hope that there is indeed a brighter future ahead.