Back in 2007, I discovered the Missouri Action Community Poverty Simulation, an experience that opens people’s eyes to the human cost of poverty. The power of this unique learning resource is that it creates, like nothing else, insight into the state of chronic crisis that consumes so many working poor families. Participants experience one month of poverty comprised of four fifteen-minute weeks. Afterwards, in the debriefing, they share insights of extraordinary vividness and intensity. I have now facilitated the simulation for more than 4000 people.
Participants are placed into families made up of one to five members. They receive an envelope that describes their demographics, their income/resources, and their bills. They interact with “vendors” (trained volunteers) who sit at tables around the perimeter of the room. During the course of the simulation, they may deal with a mortgage/rental company, school, pawnbroker, banker, employer, and others. To get from “home” to one of the vendors requires a transportation ticket. This is just the first of many challenges the participants experience within the two-hour time period.
I recently led the teachers of New Prospect STEM Academy in Anderson, SC, through the simulation. Here are some of their responses to the question: “Will the poverty simulation be helpful in your job or your life? If yes, in what way?”
“I will be more understanding of the stresses parents have to deal with in their lives.”
“I will have a better understanding of what my students may be going through.”
“Before this experience, I was too judgmental.”
“I now understand that making an A on a spelling test does not feed the child.”
“I have more insight into the home lives of many of my students.”
“This will definitely help me be more polite at school and out in the community when I interact with folks in poverty. This helps me to know better how to talk with kids and parents who struggle in so many ways.”
“I will be more empathetic.”
“I have students living in poverty and now I can understand why homework isn’t getting done.”
“This experience will help me to think more critically in terms of cutting back in certain things that I really don’t need. Most importantly though, this simulation has taught me to not take for granted the financial blessings that my family and I have in our lives.”
“I now understand why children who come to school are tired, hungry and distant.”