Poverty is alive and well in Rock County; just ask the high school students

In the April 30 poverty simulation at Grand Prairie Events, Luverne High School student Alyssa Nattress was assigned the role of a 9-year-old whose mother was in prison and her father wasn’t in the picture.

She and her 7-year-old brother lived with their disabled grandpa and their grandma who worked full time and couldn’t tend to them much because of her work hours.

Nattress described the hardships of living in a dangerous neighborhood where they were robbed and they robbed from others to meet basic needs. They were even sold into sex trafficking with the promise of better opportunities, only to find themselves victimized again.

“This was an eye-opener for me,” Nattress wrote in a paper for her high school economics class taught by David Rysdam. “I didn’t realize how many people actually struggle and are in poverty.”

She was one of 23 LHS students who participated in the simulation, sponsored by the Blandin Foundation and the local #Luv1LuvAll advocacy group.

The April 30 event was the second one in Luverne, and it was the second time Rysdam sent students to participate. “The students were engaged, out of their comfort zones and it had an impact on those that needed to hear the message the most,” he said.

Jaden Knips said he went to the simulation for extra credit in Rysdam’s class, but he got a lot more than extra points.

He played the role of a young man just out of prison paying support for a child he never saw and he lived with a woman with a child from a man who didn’t support the child. His full-time job barely paid the bills, and they were on the edge of losing their home.

“Not only did I learn a little bit of what poverty was like, I learned that people in poverty don’t just sit there and do nothing,” Knips said. “They have a bunch of stuff they do every day just to try and make things work.”

Sara Ernst reported a similar experience.

“… Honestly it was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had in a while,” she said about playing the role of a 16-year-old pregnant student who found school to be a safe haven from turmoil at home where only one of her parents had a job.

“We struggled to pay all of our bills and never had money to eat,” she said. “Despite all our efforts, we were evicted.”

Mallory Thorson reported being grateful for a stable home with parents who had stable jobs. Another student, Jocelyn Cazeres, was so moved by the experience she said she’d become a social worker in order to help people.

The students noticed a pattern of exploiting poor people.

“… They are usually impoverished because they get caught in a long cycle of borrowing money, pay a debt, paying the loan off, running into more debt, and so on,” wrote Jordan Winter. 

“I think it ties into what we learned about with monetary policy, with how debt is a normal thing for so many people. It’s just how our society and system works.”

Others simply learned compassion. 

“This experience showed me not to judge people, because you never know what someone is going through in their life or how much they are struggling to be able to provide their family with necessities,” wrote Ali Elsabagh. 

“It helped humble me and made me grateful for everything that I have in my life that I take for granted every day.”

Rysdam said the simulation is an important part of education for the community, and students’ reactions confirm the value of taking them out of the classroom to attend the event.

“I feel that there are lessons that are better learned through experience rather than the text. … We have to make sure that our students are civic-minded contributors to society and their community,” he said.

“Exercises such as these take the students out of their comfort zone and expose them to a part of our community that they may be completely unaware of. People living poverty are not going to tap you on the shoulder and tell you their story; it is often quite the opposite.”

Click on the links below to see all the students’ responses to the poverty simulation.

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