Macro-Level Social Work Interventions in Schools: Poverty Simulation Programs as Professional Development Opportunities for K–12 Educators

Apr 4, 2023

Children and Schools journal

Poverty continues to be a significant public health crisis across the United States, and its impact is particularly prevalent among school-aged youth and their families. Many K–12 educators do not fully understand the realities associated with living in poverty. Such a lack of understanding impacts teachers’ ability to meet the unique educational needs of students experiencing poverty and develop positive teacher–student relationships.

An article in a recent issue of the Children & Schools journal sets the stage for further discussion on the lack of quality training, education, and professional development for teachers on poverty. To address this gap, the authors propose a training model for professional development aimed at increasing empathy and understanding among K–12 educators through experiential learning tools such as the Community Action Poverty Simulation.

The authors describe the program in this way:

The Community Action Poverty Simulation requires participation of between 20 and 85 individuals who will take on roles in various family profiles living in poverty. These profiles represent families that are unemployed, disabled, elderly, are single parent households, and recipients of some form of assistance such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Social Security Disability. It is then the responsibility of the participants to meet the basic needs of their family profile such as providing food, shelter, and clothing by attempting to problem solve based on their family profile.

Along with the family profiles being represented, volunteers are present to represent resources available to those in poverty…. These include grocery stores, food pantries, department of social services, the police, educational institutions, employers, and various other businesses and services that may be present in a community.

Once the simulation is complete there is generally a discussion that occurs based on the experiences of the participants. Following this discussion, students often complete a post-survey that allows facilitators to measure the impact of the simulation on students’ perceptions and knowledge of poverty….

The article concludes with an in-depth discussion on implications for future practice and a call to action for school social workers to bring innovative solutions to their campuses that pull from their educational background in advocacy and social justice to enhance teacher training through an interdisciplinary approach.

Article authors

  • Anna Maria T. Curry, DSW, adjunct assistant professor, University of Maryland Global Campus
  • Stephen Monroe Tomczak, PhD, professor, Department of Social Work, Southern Connecticut State University

NASW journals are co-published by NASW Press and Oxford University Press. The journal Social Work is a benefit of NASW membership. It is available online or, at a member’s request, in print. Children & SchoolsHealth & Social Work and Social Work Research are available by subscription at a discounted rate for NASW members, either online or in print. Learn about the journals and subscriptions.