The Six Poorest Counties in Missouri, Nurses for Newborns and My Old Friend Stuart

Chairman Lair,

I first would like to thank you for your time yesterday. If you would like more information, please visit http://TheFirstThreeYears.wordpress.com

Also, I appreciate you allowing my friend, the former President of the Mehlville Board of Education to speak along with me, as he had one of the best ideas of the day, to suspend the 550 hour work rule for retired educators to help out in unaccredited districts.

Representative Cookson,

After my presentation, you asked an excellent question, “Do you know the six poorest counties in Missouri?”

I did not. I looked it up this morning, and according to Wikipedia they are Oregon, Ripley, Douglas, Shannon, Texas, and Pemiscot.

Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

While I did not know the answer, I understood the point of your question since I was speaking to the biological consequences of poverty and low socioeconomic status.

As I mentioned, socioeconomic status, as you know, is not the same as economic status. It is a combination of social environment as well as economic status.

According to the American Psychological Association:

Socioeconomic status is commonly conceptualized as the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation. Examinations of socioeconomic status often reveal inequities in access to resources, plus issues related to privilege, power and control. 

Urban vs. Rural is one of the variables of socioeconomic status.

Image Source: The Economist

As my colleague Mr. Diehl mentioned, there is a built-in support system in rural communities that does not exist in urban communities. I know of both first hand since my extended family is firmly rooted in St. Clair, Missouri, and Waterloo, Illinois, while I live in a suburb of South St. Louis County.

My Friend Stuart

I attended Oakville High School, part of the Mehlville School District, that participates in VICC, commonly known as the desegregation program – or “deseg” for short. I was active in fine arts. As a point of fact, it took me five years to get my high school degree, and the only thing keeping me in school were the fine arts. I participated in band, choir, and had the lead in the high school musical, ‘Lil Abner’.

If it were not for those fine arts programs, I likely would have dropped out.

But I digress. The point is that in my fine arts classes, I befriended a VICC student named Stuart. He often spent the night at my house and we cruised the county on weekends.

One night, I had to take Stuart home. My mom said he couldn’t stay, and it was already after dark. So, we hopped in my 1983 and 1/2 Cavalier hatchback and drove to his home in the city. It was fun, loud (with the bass from my speakers) and carefree…until I stopped at a stop sign close to his home.

Stuart immediately hit the floorboard, started screaming and cussing at me to go. Startled, to say the least, I slammed on the gas and tore up the road as much as a 1983 and 1/2 Cavalier hatchback can tear up a road.

When he came up relieved, there was literally a tear in his eye.

I asked him, “What the …. was that all about?”

Stuart looked at me with fear and seriousness, pointing his finger at me to make sure I was paying attention – “On your way home, don’t even think about stopping, you’ll get shot. Just roll.”

The point of this true story, Representative Cookson, is that I have never been so scared, yet for Stuart, that experience was a regular part of his daily existence. It was who he was because that is the environment in which he was raised.

So, when we talk about socioeconomic status, ‘urban vs. rural’ is not just a simple variable to be shrugged off. If we care about these children, I would say it is the most important variable.

In urban areas, many children are wired, or “pruned”, to survive in the environment they live in.

As I said in my testimony yesterday, “By the time the impoverished children reach kindergarten, their brains are not wired to learn in the way our evaluation system expects them to learn. We are judging the fish by how well it climbs a tree.”

Stuart represents the kind of poverty and socioeconomic status that affects school performance in Normandy, Riverview Gardens, and Kansas City.

Until we address these issues with meaningful policy, every tactic ever devised will be an ultimate failure in attempting to close the gap. Can you gain 1% here, 3% there, 5% over there. Sure…but it won’t make a meaningful difference in breaking the cycle of poverty, and it won’t make a difference in educating those in abject poverty.

Nurses for Newborns
Circling Our Wagons and Shooting Inward

To all Joint Committee on Education members,

While you don’t have to experience what I experienced with my friend Stuart, you can get a first hand look at the home environment of students born into abject poverty, and for the first time, really understand why we continue to circle our wagons and shoot inward on public education policy.

Call Nurses for Newborns at 314-544-3433 and let them know you would like to accompany them on a home visit. http://www.nfnf.org/

I promise you that it will be a life changing event unlike anything you have ever experienced before. Not to mention, it’s a wonderful cause in and of itself.

Once again,

Thank you for your time and careful deliberation on this very serious matter.

Karl Frank Jr.

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