“They are Tired, Distracted, and Worried:” Social Issues and Kids in Need

“Imagine being this child: The world is unreliable, you don’t have a place you call home, your parent is often working two jobs trying keep you fed, sometimes there is domestic violence or substance abuse. You are carrying a lot of trauma, and that is just normal life.”

That’s what we heard from one of more than 1,500 educators who responded to First Book’s Social Issues Impact Survey, part of First Book Insights, our research initiative that leverages the organization’s 25 years of experience working directly with educators serving low-income communities. We asked the members of the First Book Network to identify the social issues that most impact their students. Responses revealed that kids’ increasing anxiety about serious issues is taking a toll on both learning and teaching.

Educators told us the top three social issues facing the kids they serve are:

  • Poverty: “One boy [a second grader]…will ask other kids to give him anything they’re not going to eat (either at breakfast or lunch) so he can take it home to his family.”
  • Immigration policies and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: “[A] student told me that he was going to be able to stay after all, but that he would have to stay with an aunt and uncle, and his mom had to leave the country. That is a hard reality for a 7-year-old.”
  • Police and law enforcement interaction: “Students fear interactions with the police, and I have seen some of our students shy away from our school resource officer (a police officer of the county sheriff) when he’s visiting the school, even if he’s there for a positive thing like read-aloud or some other school event.”

Imagine, also, being this educator:

“Showing up every day to provide a[s] safe and tolerant a classroom setting [as possible] must be my first priority for my students…even more important than helping my students improve their reading skills and academic success.”

Nearly all educators who responded to the survey —95 percent—indicated that fiction and nonfiction books that address the relevant issues would help them teach to their students’ questions and concerns. They told First Book that stories are a way to introduce a topic, and they know how to leverage the material to start helpful conversations.

We asked First Book educators to elaborate on how these issues impact the kids they serve. Approximately 1,200 members took the time to write in their own individual experiences. Their stories, while all unique, shared a common theme: right now, kids in low-income communities — who comprise more than 50 percent of U.S. public school students — are focused on everyday survival.

“It makes it hard for students to concentrate on what we are learning; they want to tell stories from home quite often,” one educator wrote.

“They are tired, distracted, and worried about much bigger issues that they simply cannot leave at the door,” wrote another.

They’re not thriving, they’re not learning; they’re just trying to make it through the day.

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To read the full study, click here.

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