Lauren doesn’t look at the register on the whiteboard. She doesn’t want to see the symbol denoting her free school meal (FSM) status. Instead, she sits self-consciously, as all around her produce an assortment of colorful stationery. Lauren has no stationery.
For the umpteenth time, she is reprimanded by a teacher who hands her a solitary pen.
At lunchtime, she orders a sandwich as normal. She would like a hot meal and a pudding but doesn’t know what everything costs and is too embarrassed to ask.
In the afternoon, her teacher talks about a school art competition. He mentions prizes and certificates. He lists some websites for inspiration. Lauren loves art but knows she won’t be entering. She has nothing at home to make the picture with and no internet access.
Lauren isn’t real, but her experiences unfortunately are. Many children across the country are struggling daily with the effects of poverty, even – and sometimes especially – at school.
“We think of school as a great equalizer but actually this is very often not the case,” says Luke Bramhall, school research and delivery lead at Children North East. The charity is on a mission to make things better for school-aged children living in poverty by “poverty proofing” the school day.
The idea of poverty proofing was born eight years ago when the organization handed disposable cameras to 1,000 children and young people in the North East and asked them to photograph what poverty looked like. “We got 11,000 photos back and it was really eye-opening,” recalls Bramhall. “The response was clear that the one place it can be miserable to be poor is school.”
So the charity set about seeing what it could do.
Poverty proofing a school starts with looking at things from the child’s perspective. Children North East makes a point of talking to every child in a school it is working with. “We ask, ‘Do you know who’s poor in the school?’” says Bramhall.
The answer is always, “Well, yes, and this is how we know.”
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