Currently in the United States there are dozens of school districts faced with the challenge of trying to overcome rampant poverty in their community. The district of Jennings, Missouri — a small city just outside of St. Louis — is of no exception to this, and it’s an issue that superintendent Tiffany Anderson knew about when she took the job just over 3 years ago.
The district, which oversees approximately 3,000 students, was on the brink of losing accreditation in 2012 when it posted a score of only 57% on educational standards (which require a minimum of 50%). Rather than looking within the school system itself, Superintendent Anderson instead elected to examine difficulties within the community to come up with the best approach to correcting this.
What she found was that basic well-being factors, such as hunger and homelessness, were having the biggest negative impact on many of the district’s students.
Anderson told NPR, “My purpose is to remove the challenges that poverty creates. . . . You cannot expect children to learn at a high level if they come in hungry and tired.”
Thanks to donations from Jennings residents, local businesses, and a partnership with Washington University (amongst others), the district has been able to implement a number of impressive programs. Programs such as a food pantry which gives away food to those in need, a shelter to house homeless students, and a health clinic to provide immediate attention.
The food pantry alone gives out 8,000 pounds of food each month, an amount that is said to directly impact between 200 and 400 families.
Each of these initiatives have all played a key part in allowing the district to turn its fortunes around. Two years after initial testing, scores were up to 78% and came in at 81% in 2015, partnered with a 92% graduation rate.
While the educational numbers are certainly impressive, what I particularly appreciate about this story is the living example it serves as for the power in community. There is a lot to be built and gained when people band together for a collective cause, something that personally makes me feel as though no societal hardship is impossible to overcome.
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Other initiatives that Jennings has incorporated to date include: washers and dryers in the school that are free to use in exchange for one hour of volunteering, free groceries at parent-teacher meetings, parenting classes, and a number of teacher training programs which better prepare them to handle racism, trauma, and tense situations.
While there are still a number of improvements that Jennings needs to make, the district’s active efforts to remedy a problem at its true source are certainly inspiring. I hope that by sharing this story, other communities will be inspired to come together to implement solutions to glaring issues that impact both the school system and other integral parts of life.
Featured Image: Provided to NPR Courtesy of Tiffany Anderson | Bill MacDonald
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