‘Don’t tell my mom I told you our lights are off:’ Uncovering the Experiences of Intergenerational Poverty on Children

“Poverty has an oversized footprint in rural Georgia,” according to the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education “Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2020;” and rural low-income families and children are carrying the weight of poverty with them into the classrooms. 

Children’s self identity and esteem is being molded by poverty conditions. 

Young people growing up in poor communities are generally alert to inequalities and injustices and to their own disadvantaged situations (Chapter 11 by Gillian Mann; Bissell 2009; Canfield 2010; or Witter). Research indicates that children perceive inequalities as indicative of wider differences in power and position. Moreover, children’s sense of agency and self efficacy, comparisons to their peers and ways of coping and adapting to the condition of being poor impacts their self identity, health, school performance and aspirations. They take on roles and responsibilities for managing hardship and risk related to their impoverished living conditions. 

Measures of self-efficacy, a sense of inclusion, self-esteem and educational aspirations all correlate with measures of the material well-being of the family in which they are growing up. These circumstances shape these wider dimensions of child well-being that ultimately affect them as adults and shape their future socio- economic status.

Mitigating poverty is a social and moral imperative. 

In a 2015 article by Rosenbaum and Blum entitled “How Healthy Are Our Children?,” the researchers denote that “the best way to promote children’s health today is to mitigate poverty, invest in education, and make our neighborhoods and communities healthier and safer.” (Rosenbaum & Blum, 2015).  They further believe that “poor health is disproportionately associated with poverty, as well as with minority status and residence in single parent households, the same households that are most likely to face deep and entrenched poverty.”

Social, emotional challenges of being poor are evident in the early learning years and such challenges manifest later in their K-12 experiences and beyond into adulthood. In other words, children as young as 1 to 3 years old who are met with social, economic, and health challenges will, in turn, be met with language challenges that further stunts their educational opportunities.  According to Sharkins, Leger and Ernest, “young children living in economically disadvantaged environments often begin school with fewer basic academic and social–emotional skills” (2016). 

Most children who suffer from poverty struggle with their academics as well. “These children are more likely to experience multiple family transitions, move frequently, and change schools. The schools they attend are less well funded, and the neighborhoods they live in are more disadvantaged” (Wagmiller & Adelman, 2009). The parents of these children have fewer resources to invest in their education, and are often occupied with survival: providing housing and food for their children. 

Geography is destiny for many children in poverty.

Upon examining the geography of opportunity, one can readily see evidence of concentrated disadvantages of poverty by zip code from the cradle to the grave covering housing, healthcare, quality early childhood education, ecological and environmental factors, food desserts, absence of public goods, living wage jobs, high rates of in-school discipline, expulsion and incarceration, transportation to elder care. In short, geography is destiny.

Thus, our concern must reach beyond test performance and grades. Empathy, kindness, peacefulness, responsibility, self-control, and perseverance are a few social, emotional traits demonstrated by students in K-12 learning environments. However, when you factor in poverty, such emotions and the ability to socialize may be compromised and compounded.  Teachers and parents alike must provide the support needed to help students handle the challenges of poverty. “Children who do not learn how to self-regulate their behaviors to respond appropriately to others’ needs and demands and to navigate the slippery slope of transitions will likely fall behind in school and struggle throughout their lives.” (Buckley, 2015).

We should be very concerned that Dougherty County; Georgia has five schools on the GOSA Chronically Failing Schools list: Morningside Elementary School, Alice Coachman Elementary School, Northside Elementary School and Turner Elementary — concerned to the point of collective action.

Broaden focus of child poverty.

“Evidence argues for broadening the focus of child poverty reduction to include the psychosocial costs of lacking the culturally specific resources required for full participation in society.” (Crivello, Camfield & Porter 2010). Maslow‘s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory that proposes three levels of needs desired for humans. It states that basic needs (physiological and safety), psychological needs (esteem, belongingness and love), and self fulfillment needs exist one at a time, in that order. This was later proven to hold error in that our esteem and self efficacy is not dependent on if our physiological needs are met. In like manner, we must help children to reach their full potential even if other needs are not met. Without doing so, we risk an enormous loss of human capital as we see a “failure to thrive” in multiple generations mired in poverty. Therefore, teachers, schools and communities must take a multistakeholder approach in finding solutions that inure to the benefit of us all. 

Only a multistakeholder approach stands a chance at changing current conditions.

This is a clarion call for parents, teachers, healthcare providers, business and industry, multi-faith community, researchers and policymakers to make evidence-based decisions and take action now to reduce the barriers caused by wealth-related inequality. R WEUIOP[]Pesearch shows that high ability poor students eventually show learning gaps when compared to peers from higher income households.

Positive reinforcement encourages children to continuously display good behavior for great rewards. School extracurricular activities teach discipline, reward work and self confidence. The arts, extramural sports, volunteer groups and student government, alongside after school programs have a positive effect. Children thrive in environments that support their ability to excel in their ambitions and what is in their power to control.

The Center for Educational Opportunity at Albany State University mission is  to advance educational research in order to strengthen and empower fragile communities, from the bottom-up. Center for Educational Opportunity staff contributed to this opinion. ctrforeduopp@gmail.com 

Nation’s Report Card Assesses America’s Educational Legacy: Achievement Gaps Still Exist

The 2019 “Nation’s Report Card” was issued today based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) findings that share how America’s children are performing in school according to two measures — 4th grade reading and 8th grade math proficiency. 

However, I invite us all to take a step back and ask a few critical questions: What is education for? What are the children reading? What math are they doing?

Since 2017 they found:

  • Higher average scores in grade 4 mathematics
  • Lower average scores in grade 8 mathematics
  • Lower average reading scores at both grades

Essentially the report culled data from 294,000 students from across the nation’s states and school districts. The researchers propose that their findings are predictors of how 4th graders will do in life and whether 8th grade students are poised for high school and college-level achievement.

I often think of math in terms of its day-to-day use. My most memorable recollections of “math” were what I learned selling Girl Scout Cookies and making change at a lemonade stand. For a child interested in sports, math might be understood in terms of the batting percentage of their baseball hero. While measuring math achievement, can the adolescent calculate a 10% off sale at a local retail store? I want to know how many are saving.

As it relates to reading, I question what texts school districts have adopted for 4th- grade reading. As an adult, I am an avid reader. If the first few pages of a book do not capture my attention, however, I will quickly put it down. On the contrary, if it’s a page turner, I won’t stop until I reach the end. Children in school don’t have that option.

Most textbook publishers contract with state departments of education to supply textbooks that are then assigned to entire school districts. What is in the hands of these 4th- grade students who are not reading well? Do they see themselves in the pages and examples from which they’re expected to read for comprehension, compose their thoughts and develop critical thinking skills?

In short, what are the other ways to measure 4th-grade reading and 8th-grade math proficiency?

What really fails when measuring data of children’s performance in school in aggregate in reports such as this is that you’re looking at points, not people, and children in fragile communities are falling through the cracks in large numbers in schools where families do not have educational choice. These are the children most likely feeding what has become known as the “school to prison pipeline.” In spite of great pronouncements, many children are being left behind and all are not succeeding.

Every child in every school in America should have access to educational opportunity. Yet, 65 years later, the promise of the Brown v Board has not been realized. Schools are becoming increasingly segregated.

Geography continues to equal destiny and the achievement gap continues to widen, leaving rural county students lagging behind their urban school peers; and black, brown and poor children far behind their white peers. Social capital remains largely unequally distributed. Economic and mobility factors often proscribe families to poor performing neighborhood schools for their children’s education at great peril to their futures. This often becomes a generational cycle, not easily broken.

To address poor school performance, we must look at the educational ecosystem, beginning with how schools are funded based on property values which almost always is a factor of parents’ race, education and income, factors so inextricably interwoven in the fabric of our very constitution that it would be dim to try to consider them as distinct. The legacy issues of education in America still endure. 

Students are not made smarter by having a seat next to a white child in their classrooms. It is the access to opportunity provided in one’s family of origin and the breaks and barriers that a child must navigate by the time they enter the pre-K classroom that make all the difference.

Kathaleena Edward Monds, PhD is the founding director of the Center for Educational Opportunity at Albany State University – a Historically Black College and University.

A Nation of Homeschoolers: Families Show Promise in Educating Their Kids at Home During COVID 19

By: Kathaleena Edward Monds

COVID-19 has brought many families to the kitchen table with parents and siblings helping each other complete assignments that were sent home by their local schools. Though this is an unprecedented situation, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With the opportunity to embrace education as a family responsibility, parents can rise to the occasion.

Shonda Rhimes, creator of hit ABC shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, added levity to the situation with a tweet on Monday writing, “Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.” 

Perhaps teacher pay will be up for discussion once this passes, but for now, the buck stops at home as parents are solely “involved” as teachers. Parents’ ability to educate their own children will also be up for discussion as schools begin more robust teacher-parent partnerships based on how parents are able to ‘step up to the plate’.

School choice supporters have long recognized the importance of ‘bottom-up’ vs. ‘top-down’ educational strategies that work to benefit families and the massive school closings will allow families to participate. These changes in the education landscape force us to reassess the role that families and communities play in educating their own children.

Many in the field have expressed concern regarding the equity of shifting from face-to-face to online for those students who don’t have access to internet and devices at home. We readily see the digital divide in these conditions, especially in rural areas. We must not lose heart, however, but return to the existing tools that families may use to supplement their children’s educational experiences.  

I have fond memories growing up in Detroit, Michigan and attending school. We would often have snow days that prevented us from leaving the house. However, my mom was wise enough to allow us the opportunity to play a game of jacks with a ball and metal objects as a math supplement; or a game of words to help with our spelling; or she often would allow us to help her bake to sharpen our science skills as we understood the rationale between mixing wet and dry, or hot and cold ingredients separately.  With the infusion of board games, book discussions, and creative activities, families can find innovative ways to ensure educational continuity, while also helping fill the learning gaps with real-world, real-time educational experiences.  

There are many resources available online, and I invite you to view LearnEverywhere.org, which has curated activities and advice for at-home learning during coronavirus.

A positive, unintended consequence of social distancing may be the strengthening of both community and family via education. In isolation, parents who are working from home are compelled to find innovative ways to collaborate with their children by providing teachable moments that may otherwise have been missed.  

Kathaleena Edward Monds, Ph.D. is the founding director of the Center for Educational Opportunity at Albany State University, a public historically black college and university in Albany, Georgia.

Albany State University Center for Educational Opportunity Announces Request for Proposals

In April 2018, the Center for Advancing Opportunity awarded Albany State University a five-year grant to establish the Center for Educational Opportunity (CEO) to research ways families may obtain greater access to high-quality K-12 education. The Center’s interdisciplinary approach promotes research, innovation, and inquiry into issues relevant to K-12 education and beyond in order to improve products and services within the educational marketplace, especially for those living in fragile communities. The aim of the Center is to find ways, through research, to discover and uncover educational models, accessibility practices, innovations, and opportunities that can be operationalized, sustained, and shared in communities with the greatest need.

Request for Proposals

The Center for Educational Opportunity will offer grants for graduate students and faculty researchers to conduct action-based research projects aimed at supporting educational opportunities in fragile communities. Awards up to $7,000 will be funded.

Funds must be used to support the following research efforts:

Attracting regional, state and national experts, researchers may utilize the Center for Advancing Opportunity State of Opportunity in America reports and Opportunity Dashboard or other regional, state, and national datasets in research generation in order to understand trends, issues, and educational barriers;

Conducting action- and impact-based research that generates findings that may lead to educational policy recommendations, aimed at improving educational opportunities and removing barriers to education;

Researching ways to increase access to high-quality education for families living in fragile communities;

Researching issues pertinent to effective educational opportunities, educational access, educational innovations, and educational models;

Increasing involvement of educational stakeholders in better understanding educational policy implications, educational decision-making, and educational opportunities (including, not limited to students, parents, teachers, administrators, community partners, etc.);

Developing partnerships with educational organizations, including public school districts, private schools, charter schools, home schools, and other educational agencies and organizations with specific interests in removing barriers to high-quality education and improving educational opportunities for families living in fragile communities;

Expanding partnerships with researchers and practitioners across academic disciplines of students and faculty affiliated with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs);

Providing professional development workshops on research and writing methods for students and faculty or providing continuing education workshops for adult and K-12 teachers that align with the Center’s Vision, Missions, and Core Values;

Providing similar opportunities and programs for non-traditional teachers (i.e. home school parents, retired educators, etc.), non-traditional learners (i/e incarcerated, homeless, etc.), and in non- traditional educational settings (i.e. churches, non-profits, etc.)

Developing partnerships with other HBCU students and faculty to include as research partnerships, presenters, etc.

Eligibility Requirements:

Only full-time, tenured or tenure-track members of faculty and full-time graduate students are eligible to submit a proposal. Collaboration is encouraged and proposals may be written in coordination with anoth- er faculty member, department or relevant external partner. External organizations, staff members or non- tenured faculty or instructors may only collaborate with an eligible faculty member affiliated with an HBCU. The grant funds are to conduct research and while some programming may be involved, the grant does not support programmatic efforts (i.e. summer camps, campus programs, workshops).

Period of Performance:

The period of performance is 12-months upon acceptance of the grant award notification.  Extensions may be granted for up to 6 additional months. Researchers are expected to produce at least 1-2 journal publications from the research grant awards (depending on the grant amount). Funds are not disbursed until receipt, and approval of the Contract, W-9, Supplier Authorization Form, and an Invoice. A portion of the funds are disbursed at the start of the grant, with additional funds being provided upon completion of grant expectations.

Publication Requirements:

Research studies must reference “This research study was supported by a research grant from the Albany State University Center for Educational Opportunity.”


Reports on the status of the research projects are required on a quarterly basis. A template is provided to all grant recipients. Quarterly reports are due:

Apr. 1 (covering Jan. 1 – Mar. 31); Jul. 1 (covering Apr 1 – Jun 30);
Oct. 1 (covering Jul. 1 – Sept. 30); and Jan. 1 (covering Oct. 1 – Dec. 31).

Guidance on what the Budget can be used for, allowable and unallowable costs:

No in-kind costs are covered. No indirect costs are covered. The grant funds may only be used to support research generation, conference attendance, conference presentations, student research support, or faculty stipend. Grant funds cannot be used to provide scholarships to students. Please use the M/S Excel file provided in the online Application.

Applications and Submission Deadlines:

The Proposal Application can be obtained and submitted online (you cannot return to the application; hence, you are requested to copy-and-paste your responses into the online application). Applications may be submitted throughout the year between Aug 1 – April 30. No proposals will be reviewed during May, June, or July of each year.


External/Internal evaluators will review and score all proposals. Faculty members with experience in grant procurement and the grant proposal review process may be consulted. Proposals will be evaluated based on research plan, impact on removing barriers to high-quality education, and action-research that has the potential of improving K-12 education.

Questions? Please email Kathaleena.monds@asurams.edu, Founding Director, should you have any questions.

Submit proposal here.

65 Years after Brown v. Board of Education: HBCU Center for Educational Opportunity Tackles Gaps Via Research

Education is our most important public good, and for fragile communities, even more so.

I have the honor of serving as the founding director of the Center for Educational Opportunity at Albany State University, a public historically black college and university located in Albany, Georgia. In this role, I am afforded the opportunity to enhance K-12 education via research — perhaps the most important public good — in a 27-county service area in rural Southwest Georgia characterized by high proportions of residents struggling in their daily lives and possessing limited opportunities for social mobility, places which we have come to  define as “fragile” communities. For such communities, education has proven to be one of the surest means for social mobility, which is why the work of the Center for Educational Opportunity is critically important at this juncture. 

Sixty-five years after the landmark Brown vs Board of Education decision, access to equal educational opportunity is yet imperiled. It is the work of the Center for Educational Opportunity to “advance educational research in order to strengthen and empower fragile communities, from the bottom-up”.  In other words, our Center aims to provide financial support to researchers studying issues germane to the lives of families and educators within these communities. One goal is to create “a foundation base for an informed understanding of community and individual needs that must be applied and consistently reassessed to incorporate into impactful reforms.” (Robinson, 2019).  Our long-term goal is to achieve equal educational opportunity through research and reform in order to create sustainable and meaningful change.

According to the Georgia School Boards Association, Georgia has approximately “1.7M K-12 students, 180 school districts, three school districts with only one school, and 73 school districts that have only one school for each level of grades.” (GSBA, 2019). Among the challenges we see in rural Georgia are transportation, poverty, and teacher retention.  The number of teachers leaving the profession remains a challenge — “50 percent  of teachers leave the profession in the first five years.” (GSBA, 2019). 

The research conducted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) highlights some obvious gaps in education that exist in rural Georgia, including: 

  • 21 percent of Georgia children live in poverty
  • 50 percent  of 3 – 4 year olds attend preschool
  • 35 percent of 4th graders are at or above NAEP Reading
  • 33 percent  of 8th graders are at or above NAEP Mathematics
  • 79 percent of Georgia youth complete high school

The Centers four research pillars are: educational opportunities (i.e. eight of the 19 counties with less than 1,000 students enrolled are located in our institution’s service area) , educational access (i.e. 12 of the 51 school districts with five or fewer students per square mile are located in our institution’s service area), educational innovations (i.e. design thinking), and educational models (i.e. deployment of non-cognitive practices) that are viable options for teaching and learning.

Rather than curse the darkness, we will light a candle by creating research-based solutions. When we produce evidence of the root causes underlying the seemingly intractable exclusions and limitations that persist, we will move the needle toward measurable progress in ensuring that every child has a fighting chance suited to their way of learning. And we will also empower their parents  with information about the education choices available for their children. In doing so, we will fortify the university’s position as an innovation leader in education research, thereby expanding our founder, Dr. Joseph Winthrop Holley’s vision into the 21st century.

To this end, the Center for Educational Opportunity aims to spur  research proliferation among researchers in general, but among researchers comprised of HBCU undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty, more specifically.  HBCUs’ role in answering problems in our communities supports a bottom-up versus top-down approach — something our ancestors knew all too well as they maximized the use of scarce resources to self-educate, sustain, and nurture families and communities.

Education will continue to be a principal driver of economic growth and mobility. The Center for Educational Opportunity is creating a foundation base for an informed understanding of community and individual needs that must be applied and consistently reassessed to incorporate into impactful reforms that ultimately improves the life chances of our children who are still most in need.

For more information, contact kathaleena.monds@asurams.edu  or 229-500-2119.

The State of Educational Opportunity Today

There is an educational crisis in the United States. Children in fragile communities are being left behind. Every child is not succeeding and we must commit ourselves to do everything in our power to intervene and ensure that all Americans have access to a high-quality education.

The Center for Educational Opportunity at Albany State University was conceived to help build the capacity of Historically Black Colleges and
Universities, the largest pipeline of black educators and producers of
researchers worldwide, to provide research that helps to move people living in fragile communities from promise to prosperity, recognizing that “educational attainment for fragile families may be the single most important factor in helping young people and good jobs, acquire the resources to start businesses and contribute to rising prosperity in their families and neighborhoods.” (The State of Opportunity in America: Understanding Barriers & Identifying Solutions 2019).

Since April 13, 2018, through generous funding from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO), we have established our headquarters on the campus of Albany State University, awarded grants to promising researchers and sought to form strategic partnerships that will help us to accomplish our work, and have aimed to understand the history of education in America.

Sixty- five years after the historic Brown vs. Board decision, schools remain separate and unequal. Disparities in educational attainment, and all that flows from that, pose a real threat to our nation’s security. We have learned in the ensuing years that education reform must include choice; and options for homeschooling, charter schools and public schools cannot be limited by race, income or geography.

Our aim is to build a repository of action-based research from the narratives of those living in, working with, and researching barriers to high-quality education for those living in fragile communities.

Thank you for being a partner.

Kathaleena Edward Monds, Ph.D. Founding Director