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Low-Income Students in Mississippi

by Kylie Dazzo on November 20, 2013 Anne Russell, seventh grade teacher at Gulfport Central Middle School, invites one of her students and his or her family to eat a home-cooked meal with her every Monday evening to get to know them better. Little did she know how big of an impact these dinners would have on her low-income students lives. I thought it would be a good idea to get to know my students and their families on a more personal level since it is only my first year as a teacher, and I am new to the Gulfport area, Russell said. Gulfport Central Middle School is just one of many schools in Mississippi in which a majority of its students come from low-income households. Mississippi has the highest percentage of low-income students among all 50 states, according to U.S. Census data in the research report update titled A New Majority. Out of the 50 states, a majority of public school children in 17 states were low-income students in 2011, and 13 of those states were in the South. Seventy-one percent of all students in Mississippi attending public schools were from low-income households, according to data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the three-year-average median income from 2010 to 2012, Mississippi ranked last with $39, 592 out of all 50 states, according to U.S. Census data. All other states range in median incomes from more than $40,000 to nearly $70,000.

Nasheed Sabree, program assistant and web master for the Southern Education Foundation, knows the problems Mississippi faces with its large amount of low-income students. The fastest growing jobs are in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Therefore, if Mississippi is to improve economically, then it is vital that policies are in place to help this growing number of low-income students. Otherwise, these students will grow to become a burden on an already strained economy, Sabree said. The majority of students are eligible for a free lunch in 88 percent of Mississippis school districts. Households meet this eligibility with an income below 130 percent of the poverty line. For a family of three, this would be at or below $2,069 gross income per month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. On the Friday before, I would ask the student how many of their family members would be coming to the dinner on Monday. I was surprised when the student would tell me who all wanted to come, which even included cousins and aunts sometimes, Russell said. It wasnt long before Russell saw how important her dinners were to each of her students. I realized these home cooked dinners were something my students and their families looked forward to because they probably did not get them very often, Russell said.

Kiara Bouie, a seventh grade student in Russells class at Gulfport Central Middle School, was the first student to have dinner with Russell this school year. I liked having dinner with Ms. Russell cause she is nice and a good cook, Kiara Bouie said. Cynthia Bouie, Kiaras mother, was surprised to hear her daughters teacher wanted to have dinner with their family. Thats the first time I ever heard of a teacher wanting to meet with the parents for a good reason, Cynthia Bouie said. Even though Mississippi is known for its rural poverty, the state also holds the nations highest rate for low-income students in cities. Eighty-three percent of all children in Mississippis cities were from lowincome households. Mississippi was also the nations highest rate for students in towns: 78 percent, according to the report. Essentially the low-income students are the students who struggle the most in school. Their performance is directly tied to test scores, graduation rates and college graduation rates. Eventually the strength of the economy will depend upon their success, Sabree said.

Sources Anne Russell7th grade teacher at Gulfport Central Middle School anne.russell@gulfportschools.org Nasheed SabreeProgram Assistant/Web Master, Southern Education Foundation

NSabree@southerneducation.org Kiara Bouie7th grade student in Ms. Russells class at Gulfport Central Middle Cynthia Bouiemother of Kiara Bouie

Multimedia Suggestions An easy-to-read chart or graph representing some of the data discussed in this story would work well to give readers a visual representation to better understand the facts.