Host Carole Dorn-Bell speaks with Keith Kline, superintendent of West Clermont Local Schools, about the effects of poverty on learning. The two discuss the steps that West Clermont School District is taking to fight the impact of poverty on learning.

Keith says that when they started the conversation about the barriers to learning caused by poverty last year, West Clermont eclipsed 40 percent free and reduced lunches, which was a high for them.

As they crossed this threshold, they also recognized that the number was likely low due to the number of students who don’t file the paperwork to qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Carole says that it’s easy from the outside to speculate on what the effects of poverty are on learning, but you can’t really know the nuances unless you’re in the situation. So she asked how they came to realize that it was something that needed to be addressed by the district.

“We see poverty play itself out in a variety of different ways in our schools,” Keith says. “When they come to us hungry or they come to us without basic needs being met, it’s tough to work through those issues so that they can be as successful in the classroom as is possible.”

He says West Clermont has adopted a district-wide approach to create a courageous culture to remove those barriers to help students reach their full potential. He says that can be related to poverty, needs at home or behavioral issues.

“If we don’t have kids ready to learn when they get into class, they don’t stand as good of chance as their peers at being successful,” Keith says.

He says they’re working to close the gaps to help students achieve. One of the first pieces of the puzzle was to go through an awareness phase to help everyone understand what low income means and how poverty affects learning.

Once the staff understood poverty and its effects on learning a bit more, every employee went through a poverty simulation to give the staff better understanding.

“A big ‘Ah-ha!’ was that transportation is probably the biggest issue that a lot of families have to deal with,” Keith says.

Finally, the school is partnering with Health Source of Ohio to create a school-based health center to provide dental, vision, mental health and general health services. They will also be providing transportation to the center and back to school.

Keith offers an example of a student who may be struggling in school not because he can’t read, but because he can’t see. They can transport the student to the health center and get him in glasses and back to school before the end of the day.

“For us that is a major opportunity to change the child’s trajectory as they move forward through our system and then become contributing and successful adults,” Keith says.

He says that this process has been a great way to focus on the role that teachers and support staff can play in the life of a child.

“Whose life are you going to be able to change this year?” Keith asks. “Not just around the academic piece, but around the personal piece.”

Carol references that her personal “Ah-ha” moment about the effects of poverty on learning came when reading, “The Blind Side.”

Keith says that the staff has been overwhelmingly positive about the campaign to raise awareness about the effects of poverty on learning and to remove the barriers associated with poverty.

Carol asks Keith if there was any pushback from the staff or community, and he said that having Manny Scott speak really helped. He says Manny opened a lot of eyes on the barriers to learning that poverty causes and helped emphasize how much of a difference in a student’s life a teacher can make every day.

Carole and Keith speak about a partnership with Mercy Health to help bring community members into the school. The West Clermont HealthPlex serves as a community health club located at the new West Clermont High School. The new HealthPlex will be a revenue stream for the district once they get past the break-even point.

Keith is hopeful that whenever it’s time to put a levy on the ballot, the school will have more community support since they’ve had the opportunity to see the facility themselves.

Carole asks how they will measure and define success with regards to addressing the effects of poverty on learning within the district.

Keith says that within a month the HealthPlex had 1,000 memberships, and that continues to grow, which he sees as a huge success.

“Folks are very literally buying into what we have to offer as a public school district,” Keith says.

He says that their goal to being a hub of the community is being realized through tactics like having a merged football team.

But he says the biggest measure will be to see if the community supports the school district financially so they can continue on the path that West Clermont Local Schools is on.

Carole applauds their efforts and says she’s never seen a school district address the effects of poverty on learning in such an innovative way.

“If we don’t take care of our kids and the needs that they’re bringing to us, we’re not going to be able to be where we want to be academically,” Keith says. He says the barriers need to be taken on head on so students can reach their full potential.

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