Poverty is the New Normal in America

From 2006 to 2015 was the first time in U.S. history that our economy went 10 years without a single year of 3% growth. This shatters the 80 yr. record of a four-year stretch, during the Great Depression. 


  • 51% of all students in U.S. public schools are poor.

  • 7,000+ students from poverty drop out of school daily.

  • Half of all children born in 2015 will be on food stamps at some point in their lives.

  • Behavior and academic achievement are greatly impacted by living in poverty.

  • Chronic exposure to poverty causes the brain to physically change in a detrimental manner.

There is HOPE….


 Eric Jensen is a former teacher and educational leader who grew up in San Diego, California. Jensen’s M.A. is in Organizational Development and his Ph.D. is in Human Development.  For over two decades he has synthesized brain research and developed practical applications for educators. Jensen has authored over 29 books including 3 bestsellers. His books include, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, Tools for Engagement, Engaging students with Poverty in Mind, Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain, Poor Students Rich Students and Different Brains, Different Learners.

 I was lucky enough to attend a three day workshop in Wisconsin, where Dr. Jensen addressed the effects of poverty on student performance, both academically and behaviorally.

After 3 very engaging days, I left this training with a deeper understanding of HOW students of poverty are often different. I left with some real strategies that are proven to work. And most importantly I left with some real HOPE.

Geri Massey and Dr. Eric Jensen

Geri Massey and Dr. Eric Jensen

It is true that kids from poverty are different.  In short, poor students are different because their brains are different.  The brain’s neurons are designed by nature to reflect their environment, not to automatically rise above it.  Chronic exposure to poverty affects the areas of the brain responsible for memory, impulse regulation, visuospatial actions, language, cognitive capacity and conflict – Eric Jensen

This means in many classrooms today, teachers are seeing behaviors that show the effects of chronic stress (learned helplessness, apathy, hypervigilance and in-your-face- aggressiveness) or toxins (poor memory and distractibility).   Teachers are also seeing the effects of less exposure to cognitive skills (deficient vocabulary, poor reading skills, and weak working memory), and impaired socioemotional skills (poor manners, misbehaviors, or emotional overreactions).

Teachers who do not understand where these behaviors come from, the WHY, may blame the behavior on the student.  Teachers may inappropriately judge a student as lazy, unwilling to follow directions, a poor listener, low achieving or anti-social.

Changing these outcomes and breaking this cycle is possible and it starts in the classroom and is led by the teacher.  The change can be difficult, but because we are passionate about doing what’s best for students, we need to do better.  Dr. Jensen’s research is clear; achievement is directly related to teacher behavior.  To make change, we have to look to ourselves and change first.  When students fail - we all fail

Bottom Line:

Kids from poverty are different.  Brains adapt to suboptimal conditions.  But, brains can and do change every day.  We can facilitate that change but we have to let go of every single excuse we’ve ever heard of.   NEW MINDSETS ARE ESSENTIAL TO SUCCESS!

 There is so much more to share.  Stayed tuned for my next blog….


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