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Conference Prepares Teachers for Poverty-Stricken Classrooms

by Rod Jones

The Oklahoma City University Education Department is hosting a conference March 25 to help future school teachers prepare for working with students who face poverty. It is the fifth year for the Connecting Across Cultures event.

Education professor Laura Wilhelm, who previously taught in Oklahoma City Public Schools, stressed the importance of preparing new teachers for some of the challenges they are likely to face in urban classrooms, where poverty is common.

“The goal of this project is to prepare future teachers with knowledge, understanding and strategies to best support their students who live in poverty,” Wilhelm said.

According to Oklahoma Kids Count 2011, 23 percent of children in the state live in poverty. Also, 12 percent live in high-poverty areas, and 30 percent of the parents of young children lack secure employment.

OCU’s teacher education director Liz Willner said teacher preparation programs should prepare candidates to teach all students, as opposed to using a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Classrooms include students with differences in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, gender, exceptionalities, language, religion and sexual orientation,” she said. “Teachers must value their future students who will come to their classrooms with their own individual talents and experiences regardless of their family resources.”

Education majors and teacher education faculty members from approximately 15 Oklahoma universities are expected at the Connecting Across Cultures conference. Local teachers who work with students facing poverty will serve as resources.

A grant from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education funds two keynote presenters — Bob Brandenburg from the Oklahoma Association of Community Action Agencies and Patricia Webb with The Resilience Project. Brandenburg will place participants in various family groups for a simulation on dealing with limited income, parenting issues and other challenges. Webb will guide conference participants to consider classroom activities that have been found to foster resilience and help counteract the effects of poverty on students.

An added feature to this year’s conference is a “train the trainer” session, during which participants will prepare to take their learning back to their universities for class presentations. Having the opportunity to share their experiences from the conference will expand its impact, Willner said.

For more information about the conference, contact Wilhelm at [email protected] or Willner at [email protected].

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