Education - A Bridge Out of Poverty

Last Updated by Kate Spears on

Recently, a group of community leaders, faith based organizations, educators, and social service providers gathered in the Upper Cumberland for an important discussion. The topic? Causes and effects of poverty on children and families. This event, Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities, was based on a book with the same name by Ruby Payne, Phil DeVol, and Terie Dreussi-Smith.

During the Bridges Out of Poverty training, the group learned about different types of poverty, including generational poverty and situational poverty and how they differ. Also covered was the use of formal and casual language, plus mentals models about poverty, middle class and wealth. On this episode of the Get Ready To Learn radio show, Cindy Putman is joined by Lynn Reynolds, an educator and mother of three who has taught special education in Davidson and Rutherford county for over 20 years and they discuss the effects of poverty on a child’s academic success.
One of the topics discussed in the poverty training was the unfairness of it all. Nobody gets to choose the family he or she is born into. Much of our circumstances are already determined for us at birth. But even if we can't alter our beginnings, it's never too late to change the path we're on. And for the young people in our community, there are important ways that we can all pitch in and make a difference in their lives. 
A Closer Look at Poverty and Its Effects 
We know poverty strikes its most innocent victims hardest of all. Stresses associated with poverty — including malnutrition, lack of mental stimulation, poor health care, frequent moving and general insecurity — have their greatest effect on newborns and children up to age two.
Did you know that children who live in poverty in those first years of life are about 30 percent less likely to complete high school than children who became poor later in childhood?
Children in generational poverty, that is poverty that lasts longer than 2 generations, are often weak in vocabulary, which is an important component that helps them be prepared for school.
Children who spend more than half of their childhoods poor are nearly 90 percent more likely to enter their 20s without completing high school, as opposed to children who never experienced poverty.
Earning a high school diploma can help break the cycle of multi-generational poverty, but persistent poverty makes earning that diploma a challenge.
Youth living in poverty are the least likely to become educated in our nation. Academic achievement numbers are low for the children of families who struggle to meet their basic needs.


People living in poverty often experience education as “stress” and see it as a place they do not belong. A college education appears to be the only possibility to help people break the walls of poverty and escape its hardships; yet today, it is less likely a person in poverty will attain a college education than it was in the 1940’s.

How Does Poverty Effect the Way We See Ourselves?

People in poverty often have internalized their poverty as a personal deficiency. They see no hope for anything but an insufficient welfare or disability check, or underground activities that barely pay enough to keep food on the table and often result in incarceration.

Nearly 80 percent of people in prison cannot read at an 8th grade level. Poverty affects education success, health, relationships, and most of all it affects the ability for humans to develop to their full potential.
Decades worth of research has shown that children from low-income families are at a higher risk of entering school with poor language skills compared to more privileged students. On average, they score two years behind on standardized language development tests.
New research has shown that this achievement gap could begin at as early as 18 months, and by the age of two, children from low-income families show a six-month gap in language proficiency. By the age of three, the difference in vocabulary can be so large that children would have to attend additional schooling to catch up.
Furthermore, poor children have more difficulty understanding abstract language and possess lower reading and writing skills, which increases the odds that the child will drop out of school in the future. They often struggle with phonological awareness skills: the ability to consciously manipulate a language’s sound system.
What can you do? 
The good news is that a child’s vocabulary can be built and improved by parents reading to and with their child, talking to them about the world around them. This may involve asking questions that do not have yes or no answers. Another solution is to ask children to explain what something looks like, smells like, feels like. 
Reynolds and Putman believe that reading and talking to children are easy ways to increase their vocabulary. Repetition and consistency are also key. Reynolds says that she selects a book of the week for her students and reads the same book every day to her class. Then they do activities based on the book for a total immersion in the literature. Reynolds says by Friday most of her students have memorized parts of the book and love to call this out when she is reading.
Traditions also help to boost a child’s knowledge of the world around them, including sharing stories from childhood, talking about favorite books that were read to you, and spending together talking about their day. It seems simple, but just asking a child about what they learned in school, what they ate for lunch, or how they might be feeling all provide opportunities to increase a child’s vocabulary.
How can you help a child in poverty succeed? WCTE is doing its part to make resources available for parents and caregivers and to stress the importance of reading with and talking with their children.
In our community, Putnam County schools is presenting Ready For Kindergarten classes for parents- For more information check out this site. These free classes help parents understand how to be their child’s first teacher. Contact  Barbara Greeson at 931-526-9777 for schedule of classes.
What's more, PCSS partnered with WCTE and Cookeville Regional Medical Center to produce an eight (8) minute video to share with new parents in the Upper Cumberland Region. Research tells us how important it is for parents at the birth of their child to begin reading to them. A child's brain begins to hear the sounds and words necessary to build capacity for later in young life. The chart below shows us how a child's brain grows very quickly and how much they learn early. These years are so crucial in preparation for Kindergarten, school, and the rest of their lives.

Please take a few minutes to watch this important message for your child's education. 


Tune in each Saturday morning at 9:30 for the WCTE Get Ready To Learn Radio Show, with host Cindy Putman on Zimmer Broadcasting's The HUB 107.7 FM and 1400 AM. 

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WCTE’s Educational Team can customize workshops or professional development trainings for your group or organization. For workshop information, or to inquire about scheduling a workshop, call 921-528-2222 x. 227 or email us.

Topics are listed below:

  • Using Media as a learning tool
  • Using PBS kids apps to extend learning
  • How to be your child’s first teacher
  • Sesame Street Workshops
  • How does poverty effect a child’s brain
  • Literacy and Math
  • Brain Development

Workshops can be conducted in English and Spanish.