Juniors Experience the Cost of Poverty

Juniors experienced some of the challenges and decisions people in the lower, middle and upper classes make on a daily basis when the students attended the Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) on Tuesday, March 7.

"I have been working with issues of race and social class for almost 20 years and of all the things I have seen and done, this gives students an active, small experience of what it's like to live in poverty," community facilitator John Wilson said.

The COPE program is put on by Think Tank, Inc. CJ juniors have participated in COPE for four years.

"One real asset about CJ is the economic, racial, and cultural diversity that goes on at the school," Wilson noted. "When you have such a diversity of people taking in this experience, they go back to their home communities that aren't as diverse and may begin to ask questions like, why? Why is that? Why does it look like this and what can I do to be a part of that change?"

The simulation randomly split the juniors into three groups - poverty, middle class, and wealthy. During the simulation, each group would spend a week (equivalent to 10 minutes) performing certain activities or jobs according to their status. Jobs included flipping burgers (bean bags) at a restaurant or folding clothes at a department store.

Students in the wealthy class did not have to get a job while middle and poverty class students were encouraged to apply for one. For some students in the poverty group, they were not allowed to look for a job or go to school because they had to watch a sibling (represented by a baby doll).

"I don't like it," said one of those students, Nick Henne '18. "I want to be doing stuff like making money but I can't. I'm just taking care of a baby and watching everyone else do other things."

 Another activity required students in the wealthy group to give a bag of donated food to the poverty group without having a conversation with the students they were helping.

"It made me feel good to give to people, but we weren't allowed to talk to them, so that was kind of weird," reflected Skylar Manning '18.

Emsley Spees '18, who was in the middle class group, said she struggled to get a job and was turned away every time she applied.

"It's frustrating," Spees shared. "I also only had $100 and was only able to buy a car because someone else gave me money."

Clay Mathile '18, who was in the poverty group, found a way to make money by opening up his own business.

"It makes me feel good because I know that I'm working for my money and I'm doing a good thing," Mathile reflected.

Students shared that overall, taking part in COPE was an eye-opening experience.

"It helped me realize that some people don't have the same opportunities I do even if it's for the simplistic things," Alexis Nelson '18 shared.  "We are all the same because we are all the same age and want to do similar things, but we may not get to do that because of things like poverty." 

Posted March 21, 0217