As the figures of schoolchildren living in poverty rises in Richmond County, so does the challenge of educating them.
The number of Richmond County pupils living in poverty increased each year from 2000 to 2003, according to figures released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly a quarter of the county's schoolchildren live in poverty.
Richmond County's number of impoverished schoolchildren mirrors the state's upward trend, according to the census data. The state and county increases follow years of steady declines.
There are many challenges in educating children from low-income families, the first of which is instilling in teachers a sense of what it's like to be poor, said Charles Jenks, an associate professor of education at Augusta State University. Often, for instance, children in poverty view education as an obstacle rather than an opportunity.
"Until we develop this sense of empathy, we're not going to be able to target them for teaching," Dr. Jenks said.
Priority must also be given to helping children handle the realities of being poor, he said. Some won't even risk the stigma of being poor and so don't accept the free lunch program designed to help the poor.
"I think a lot of this is accident of birth," Dr. Jenks said. "A child doesn't choose to be born poor. From that perspective, I think it's got to weigh on a child's mind."
Poverty tends to be part of a cycle, he said. Poorer school systems tend to have a hard time attracting quality educators, and teacher turnover is usually high. The way in which education is funded also contributes to the cycle, because school systems in poorer communities must weigh the benefits of charging high property taxes to boost education at the cost of burdening those who are already impoverished.
Richmond County had a decline in the number of schoolchildren living in poverty from 1995 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Georgia had a decrease from 1997 to 2000. Since then, however, poverty numbers have begun to rise.
In Richmond County, 24.8 percent of children ages 5 to 17 were living in poverty in 2003, the most recent data available. Although rising, the numbers are still lower than those in 1995, when nearly one-third were living in poverty, according to bureau data.
The latest census figures indicate that Richmond County has about three times as many schoolchildren living in poverty as Columbia County. Aiken County has about 18.4 percent living in poverty.
Although Richmond County remains in the bottom half of Georgia's school systems in the percentage of pupils living in poverty, it has improved since 1995, according to Census Bureau data. In 1995, the county ranked 131st of 182 school systems. By 2003, it was 114th.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The number of pupils living in poverty in Richmond County and in Georgia:
Richmond year county Georgia1995 12,179 308,6141997 10,643 311,3551999 9,621 262,1012000 8,890 252,3262001 9,218 264,6472002 9,330 267,4012003 9,349 291,342Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Pupil povertyYear/Richmond County/Georgia1995/12,179/308,6141997/10,643/311,3551999/9,621/262,1012000/8,890/252,3262001/9,218/264,6472002/9,330/267,4012003/9,349/291,342Source: U.S. Census Bureau