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Students deemed 'low income' on the rise

Written by Ashley Books, Public Opinion Online | Feb 22, 2016 9:35 AM
EcoStudentGraphic 600x452.jpg

A graph showing the increase in enrollment of economically disadvantaged students in the Franklin County area. The data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education includes CASD, FMSD, GASD, TSD, WA SD and SASD. (Photo: Ashley Books, Public Opinion)

(Franklin County) -- Students from low-income homes make up almost half of the overall student population in the county - and more and more children are falling into that demographic every year.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the number of students deemed low-income county-wide increased by 12 percent in the past five years.

During the 2014-2015 school year, approximately 10,659 students out of 22,807 in the county were in this group - which is about 46 percent of the total enrollment in the area.

Students deemed low-income, or "economically disadvantaged," in education circles, include those who fall under: "poverty data sources such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cases, census poor, Medicaid, children living in institutions that are neglected or delinquent, those supported in foster homes or (those who have) free/reduced price lunch eligibility may be used," the PDE's website said.

Dr. Charles Prijatelj, superintendent for the Tuscarora School District, said the district has several programs to help these students succeed, academically.

There are currently 993 low-income students out of 2,595 students in the district, which is 38 percent of the student population.

One initiative Tuscarora has for this specific group of students is "Success by Six." This program is open to all students coming into kindergarten, and screens for students who may be at-risk. Those students who are considered at-risk then attend a pre-kindergarten summer school to help prepare them.

"That's a big thing, because people don't realize it, but if we can get all of our kids reading at (grade) level by third grade, we'll have no dropouts," Prijatelj said. "If kids are reading at (grade) level by the end of third grade, which means they are where they need to be, their chances of graduating are exponentially better than children who have not reached the point of being able to read at grade level by the end of third grade."

Chambersburg Area School District has a similar program to help it's low-income students. The district offers a kindergarten academy during the summer for six weeks, which helps prepare students who might not be ready.

"It is helping them with social skills, behavioral skills, all kinds of things that, typically, if they didn't have this little intervention, it would really put them at a disadvantage starting kindergarten," Susan Breslin, a communication specialist for the district said.

Approximately 5,100 students in Chambersburg, or 55 percent, out of are 9,224 are considered low-income this year.

Chambersburg also has several interventions in place at the elementary and middle schools to identify where these students might be struggling and to pinpoint their learning needs. In these interventions, specialists spend more time with these students who are not achieving at grade level in math and reading.

Matthew Strine, assistant superintendent for the Shippensburg Area School District, said the district holds fundraisers and competitions to help raise awareness for this group of students. The district also has a building administrator that contacts homeless students, brings them supplies and finds other resources to meet their needs.

This year, approximately 42 percent of Shippensburg's population is economically disadvantaged with 1,405 students in this group out of 3,336 students.

"Our kids can come to school and we may not know their situation at home, and it's hard to know what our kids that live in poverty deal with each night," Strine said. "So, we're trying to do a lot of investigation, trying to find out how we can better serve that group of students, because we do have a large group of students."

Greencastle-Antrim School District focuses more on building relationship with families too, not just help it's low-income students, but all students. For example, the staff meets with each eighth-grade student coming into the high school in order to introduce them to the program and set goals.

"I think really our overall philosophy here as a school district, and especially when the kids are moving in from the middle school to the high school, is we really try to individualize all students' education plans," Edward Rife, principal for Greencastle-Antrim High School, said.

Out of all the districts, Greencastle-Antrim currently has the lowest enrollment of low-income students, with approximately 32 percent representing the group, or 998 out of 3,084 students.

PDE data supports that these programs are benefiting this specific student population. Overall, Franklin County has increased its graduation rate of this group. In 2012 and 2013, the average graduation rate of economically disadvantaged students was 79 percent compared to the state averages of 73.5 percent (2012) and 76.54 percent (2013). This number increased in 2014, reaching 81 percent, compared to the state average of 76.81 percent.

Strine said one of the challenges Shippensburg faces in working with these students is connecting them and their families to outside resources.

"We know of Tuesday food pantries, and we know about churches giving meals, lunches and dinners, and we know about coat drives - things like that," Strine said. "So, we try to connect those kids and the parents of the kids to these resources, but it's not as streamlined as I've seen it in other places."

Rife said these students can struggle more than other students because of the outside circumstances they might be dealing with.

"The more challenges that students are faced with outside of school, the more challenges inside of school," Rife said. "The community pieces are brought into school every day, so there are challenges that we deal with in that sense."

For Prijatelj, its about ensuring these students get a good education so they can succeed later in life.

"No child wants to fail - it's our job to ensure that they have the proper support, so they don't," Prijatelj said.

Ashley Books, 717-377-4512


This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF. 

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