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School system announces initiative to address poverty

Speaking before community leaders Thursday, Jan. 26, Samantha Fuhrey, superintendent for the Newton County School System (NCSS), announced a new initiative aimed at better serving NCSS students impacted by poverty. Just over 70 percent of the NCSS’s 19,680 students are considered economically disadvantaged.

“Addressing poverty will help us get stronger as a community because we will know how to talk to people and how to support them,” Fuhrey said. “It’s about developing strong partnerships between and among all entities who are working feverously for our community, so that we just naturally have a safety net for all of our families. As a school system we do not have a choice. We have to figure out what to do because our kids are counting on us. They need us to figure out how to help them be successful.”

NCSS teachers, staff and administrators have been taking training to become poverty informed. Later this spring, NCSS will invite community members to an awareness seminar so they too can become poverty informed. Craig Lockhart, deputy superintendent, said, “I encourage you to come out and bring a friend. The more of us who know about these issues, the more of us can support our community.”

According to Fuhrey, a poverty informed individual and community does not make false assumptions about families in poverty. “I heard someone recently say that mom just keeps having more babies so she can stay on the welfare roll and get more money. But they don’t get more money. That’s what people think, but it’s not true.”

The NCSS’s poverty initiative will eventually seek to identify influential people willing to participate as “navigators” and be partnered with “neighbors,” that is, with people and families impacted by poverty.

“Navigators would partner with neighbors not to give them food or money or resources, but to help them navigate through the situation of poverty,” Fuhrey said. “Particularly those who are impacted by generational poverty, and there are many families who generation after generation struggle with poverty.”

NCSS is working with experts Donna Beegle, president, and Elia Moreno, national program director for Communication Across Barriers. Communication Across Barriers is a 25-year-old organization based in Tigard, Oregon dedicated to helping professionals and communities “break the cycle of poverty in America.” Elia Moreno has been instrumental in setting up a successful community initiative of the sort NCSS envisions in Amarillo, Texas. Beegle will be in Covington this spring to lead a pair of training seminars, one for community members and one for teachers.