On the morning of February 17, 2017, a bustling crowd filled the central rotunda of Tallmadge High School. Students were off that day, and in their place, the more than 180 members of Tallmadge City Schools’ teaching and administrative staff gathered to confront an issue that impacts their work every day – how generational poverty and class touch the lives of their students.
The day-long workshop was the result of a partnership between Tallmadge City Schools and United Way’s Bridges initiative. To Jeff Ferguson, superintendent of Tallmadge City Schools, it had seemed like a natural pairing ever since he attended the eight-hour Bridges training a few months earlier.
“As you go through that training, you start to realize and recognize, as an educator, that you do have biases and that there are these unwritten rules of class that exist every day,” he said. “I thought right away that this was something our staff could benefit from.”
Throughout the day, teachers worked together to examine issues related to poverty. Through presentations, discussions and group exercises, they explored how poverty and class influence the daily lives of everyone around them – including their students.
“Poverty is such a complex issue itself, and I think that, to bring the different spheres of influence and the different groups together to start the conversation, I think that’s one of the real powerful messages that United Way has in its mission,” said Ferguson. “The advantage United Way has is that it crosses all the boundaries. It has access to business, to community and to the education world.”
Through initiatives like Bridges, and by helping individuals learn the skills they need to gain financial independence, United Way is working to build a future where every family – and every student – has the opportunity to thrive.
“Our students get off the bus every day, and they’re coming from such a varied background,” added Ferguson. “I think that understanding is really going to help our teachers work with our students.”