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WCHS staff immersed in poverty simulation
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WCHS faculty members and staff gather Tuesday in the school’s auxiliary gym to learn about the struggles impoverished children in Warren County face daily. - photo by Atlanta Northcutt

Principals and teachers at Warren County High School gained a deeper understanding of the day-to-day struggles that come with living in poverty during a simulation on Tuesday in the school auxiliary gym.

With Warren County ranking as the 73rd economically lowest of Tennessee’s 95 counties, principals Jimmy Walker and Julie Wood organized the forum for teachers to experience first-hand the effects of this epidemic on students and their families.

The simulation enabled faculty to look at poverty from a variety of angles so they could recognize and discuss the potential for change within their school. Since classrooms are filled with poverty-stricken students, some wearing the same clothes every day, the experience raised awareness about what children and their families endure to simply survive.

Paddi Smith summed up her group’s feelings by stating, “These students have a lot of disadvantages against them.”

Fellow member David Reed added, “Basically the poverty situation seems like the further you get into it, the harder it is to get out. It’s a hole you’re digging deeper and deeper.”

Staff members were grouped into different families who had all fallen on hard times in one way or another. Each of the four, 15-minute segments were equivalent to one week, adding up to a month. Participants had to figure out how to live on limited resources and navigate their way through “vendors” such as social services, utility and bank offices.

They also had to worry about mortgage or rent, loan collectors, and using EBT cards at the grocery store. Pawning objects at a pawn shop, along with receiving loans with high interest rates, can be a necessity to survive. When those options didn’t fulfill the monetary needs required to make ends meet, crime became a last resort to support their families.

An improvised jail was full of people who had been arrested for theft and selling narcotics. Many of these were young people or parents. Unsupervised youth also filled the jail’s holding area, while waiting for placement because many of their parents or grandparents were unable to care for them.

“Parents can’t be involved so much when they’re so stressed out with paying bills and making ends meet,” said Jamie Brannon, as she realized why more parents are unable to be as involved in their children’s lives and school work.

The faculty was given an eye-opening experience as to what their students deal with on a daily basis. As evidence of the local need, around 67 percent of the students at the high school are eligible for free and reduced lunch due to living below the poverty line. At week’s end, students are provided sack meals, called fuel packs, to meet nutritional needs over the weekend and lessen the likelihood students will be without food.

The simulation was designed to take the adult out of the situation and have teachers ask themselves, “Did that child choose to live that way?”