St. Augustine parents, teachers agree: poor students need encouragement

LaurenElypictureBy Lauren Ely |

Now that The Webster School has cut its free tutoring service, Tanise Bunker isn’t sure how she can provide help for her daughter Julianna to pass the third grade.

Bunker, a mother of four, is a stay-at-home mom. “My daughter has ADD, so she has a hard time focusing, and she’s really behind in reading,” Bunker said. “I had free tutoring, and her tutor called me yesterday to let me know that the state of Florida is cutting all free tutoring. I was just like, ‘Oh no, she’s not going to make it through third grade without this tutor.'”

Bunker, like most lower and middle-class families, is unable to afford tutoring from companies such as Sylvan Learning and Quantum Leap.

According to a Stanford University study done by sociologist Sean F. Reardon, the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed, but the gap between rich and poor students has grown. Reardon’s study showed the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students is now double the testing gap between white and black students.

R.J. Murray Middle School is one of the lower income schools in St. Johns County. According to the Florida Department of Education, almost 53 percent of its students are economically disadvantage. Exceptional student education and emotional behavioral disorders teacher at Murray, Austin Donmoyer, said economic standing doesn’t stop his students from wanting to go to college.

“I believe the amount of money a kid’s family has, has nothing to do with the effort they put forward in a classroom,” Donmoyer said. “A lot of the kids have never been pushed to explore the idea of college, and that’s what I hope to instill in them.”

A reason for the growing education gap is wealthy parents having the ability to invest more time and money into their children, while lower-income families lack resources. Flagler College assistant professor of anthropology, Dr. William Locascio, said students can’t succeed without support from home.

“The challenges of being poor aren’t just not having money, but not having time,” Locascio said. “Transportation-for example- you might not have a car. You might have to rely on public transportation. That might add one or two hours to your commute, and those are one or two hours that could be spent with your child.”

Locascio was a social worker in Chicago for four years prior to coming to Flagler. He met as many poor people that are capable intellectually of success in school as rich people. “It has to do with context, and it has to do with how social structure and society present the obstacles that are there.”

Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” argues the education gap has formed a cultural divide. Locascio agrees.

“Society tends to expect less from people who are in lower income places. Those perspectives are sort of internalized by the kids, and they don’t really ever take it [school] too seriously.”

Julianna’s mother, Bunker, said children from lower income families need to have a glimpse at how they can be better so that they are inspired to go to school and have a better life. “It’s a vicious circle that needs to be intervened.”

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