Understanding Poverty through “Chocolate and Poverty” Training
For 16 years, Mark Brezitski has served as an admissions counselor at Milton Hershey School. While every day is different for the admissions team, training professionals on the effects of poverty is a common request thanks to their successful “Chocolate and Poverty” presentations.
The goal of “Chocolate and Poverty” is to help professionals gain a better understanding of the characteristics and traits of students and families in poverty. Similar to how MHS is a cost-free school for low-income families, the “Chocolate and Poverty” training remains cost-free for professionals.
To shed light on some of the most common questions associated with poverty and discuss how MHS is giving back to the community, Brezitski shared the admission team’s work with “Chocolate and Poverty.”
Resources and Survival
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, a baby is born into poverty every 32 seconds in America. To calculate this statistic, the government creates income thresholds that vary by family size to determine if a family falls into the category of poverty.
While financial resources play a role in defining poverty, there are several other factors that impact a family’s ability to thrive—specifically children who are pursuing an education.
“Finances are only one part of poverty. If children don’t have key resources, it’s going to affect them every day,” said Brezitski. “Many kids in poverty aren’t going home worrying about doing homework — they’re worrying more about daily survival.”
Ruby Payne Ph.D. reports impoverished families typically lack:
- Financial— Does the individual have the money to purchase goods and services?
- Emotional— Can the individual choose and control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior?
- Mental— Does the individual have mental abilities and acquired skills to deal with daily life?
- Spiritual— Does the individual believe in divine purpose and guidance?
- Physical— Does the individual have physical health and mobility?
- Support Systems— Does the individual have friends, family, and backup resources available to access in times of need?
- Relationships/Role Models— Does the individual have frequent access to adults who are appropriate, who are nurturing, and who do not engage in self-destructive behavior?
- Knowledge of Hidden Rules— Does the individual understand the unspoken cues and habits of a group?
Generational vs. Situational Poverty
Through the poverty training, professionals also learn about the differences between generational and situational poverty.
With situational poverty, a parent may have lost a job or a family member may have passed away. Children in these families are accustomed to having most of the necessary resources to succeed in school, but they instantly lose them when their family experiences difficult times. For generational poverty, schooling may not be a major part of a family’s expectations. Parents may not have received an education, which causes their children to follow similar paths.
“For my family growing up, the expectations were simply to pass the state exam after graduation,” explained Brezitski as he defined generational poverty. After getting involved in athletics and completing college, he gained more resources and broke the cycle his family had followed for generations.
“There wasn’t anything wrong with [my family’s expectations,] but it’s exciting to see what my kids are doing now and watch future generations experience more success than we had.”
By providing children with the resources they’re lacking, they will have more opportunities to overcome generational and situational poverty.
The Success of “Chocolate and Poverty”
The goal of our poverty training is to help professionals take a step back and consider how a family or child in poverty might behave differently.
“Professionals learn to not only look at a student’s behavior but also start asking the question of ‘Why is the student behaving like that?’” Brezitski said.
Helping professionals understand the whole situation—that children may not know if they’re going to eat dinner or have a place to sleep each night—is the main goal. “Chocolate and Poverty” also allows MHS to share its knowledge with the education community.
“These presentations are a nice way for us to give back,” said Brezitski. “They are a great way for professionals to maintain their certifications, and we offer them for free.”
Professionals such as school counselors often need to obtain certain service hours and Act 48 credits. The “Chocolate and Poverty” training is an exciting way to help them achieve these goals.
Poverty Doesn’t Rest
Milton Hershey School strives to provide children from poverty with the resources they need to succeed, including stability, supervision, and opportunities. When professionals hear the types of opportunities offered and learn about the level of support these children deserve, it inspires educators from the entire community to work together to better support low-income families.
“Poverty doesn’t rest, so we don’t rest either,” Brezitski said.