Over a course of three days and five sessions, 323 Waynesville High School freshmen participated in a poverty simulation. 

“My hope is that this opportunity for our freshmen will provide a better understanding of what poverty is and other life struggles,” said Brian Vernon, assistant principal at Waynesville High School. “Students need a sense of acknowledgment, awareness and empathy that will create a higher value on education and everyday compassion.  My goal is to challenge these young adults to spread positivity and unity throughout our school and community.”

Students were assigned roles in families, such as a child, a single parent, part of a dual parent family or a grandparent raising grandkids. 

They experienced what it might be like to be part of a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month. The families had to make decisions on going to work or school and which bills to pay. Along with the families, volunteers filled the roles of resource agencies such the food pantry, health clinic day care, employment center, realtor/mortgage company, welfare offices, grocery stores, pawn shops and more. 

The “month” was broken down into four 15-minute weeks where the students had to make decisions about their lives. Parents watched their children wear “I’m Hungry” signs if they forgot to buy groceries the previous week or they received notices about overdue utility bills. 

Students stated it was more stressful than they anticipated and that “it made me realize what some families in our community go through on a daily basis,” said one participant.

Families with delinquent mortgages watched as the landlord handed out eviction notices and they lost their homes. One student found herself in tears due to the stress of trying to ensure that her bills were paid and her fictional children fed.  

AmeriCorps VISTA member Jasmine Kazuma witnessed the same student buying groceries for a neighbor and said, “I watched her doing all she could do for her own family and still helping neighbors who were struggling.”   

Jocelyn Moore, a Waynesville R-VI School District volunteer shared why she volunteered for four of the five sessions, “I enjoy doing this poverty simulation for the simple fact that I can help the students understand poverty around them. Poverty has a great impact on their mindset and can affect student’s achievement in school. For example, for those who live in poverty, if they believe that they can do better in school, they will work hard in order to have better grades and a better life later on.”

For some of the participants they initially struggled to see the real-world connection.  

“Some of the students did feel it was a game but based on feedback we received, the majority understood that there are people in our community for whom this is a reality,” said Nadine Albrecht, an AmeriCorps VISTA leader who helped coordinate and facilitate the simulation. “I was excited to work with Mr. Vernon to put these simulations together because I do think awareness is key and it’s important for everyone to feel empathy and try to understand that everyone has their own struggles they deal with and we need to be kind. This is especially important to me because I grew up in poverty, was homeless at one point and often depended on community resources to survive.”  

As a whole, the AmeriCorps VISTA team’s goal was to help students understand that they have the power to choose their story.  If they live in poverty now, they can make choices to change by taking advantage of education and accepting help from people willing to invest in their future, or they can make not so great choices.”

The simulations were coordinated and facilitated by AmeriCorps VISTA members Nadine Albrecht, Chase DenDekker, Amanda Howard, Jasmine Kazuma and Sara Shelton.  The objective of the experience was to sensitize students to the day-to-day realities of life faced by low-income people and to motivate us to become involved in activities which help to reduce poverty in this country. The primary mission of AmeriCorps VISTA members is to build sustainable programs in the communities they serve to break the cycle of poverty for community members.

ABOUT THE COMMUNITY RESOURCE OFFICE (CRO) 

The Community Resource Office (CRO), under the direction of Todd Whalen, is a grant-supported department of the Waynesville R-VI School District that manages district volunteers, AmeriCorps school tutors, Club TIGER Afterschool Program, Snack in a Pack Program, college and career readiness, service learning and more. These programs are made possible by grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Army Youth Programs in Your Neighborhood (AYPYN). For more information about the CRO Programs or how to get involved, contact (573) 842-2250 or community@waynesville.k12.mo.us.