The slogan â€śWe are the 99%â€ť is a good way of translating wealth inequality in the US into something that everyone could understand. However, the quote also leaves out a lot. While it talks about the rising inequality and growing class segregation, this picture of a new Gilded Age is missing the growing divide between children who attend piano practice, badminton club, foreign language lessons and those who might not eat family dinners, have parents who read to them at night, and who might never experience any other enriching opportunity.
Albert Einsteinâ€™s advice to raising a successful scientist was to read children fairy tales. But what tales can you read to your child if you live at the edge of economic survival? If you donâ€™t have money to invest into a book? If you have no social network to support you? And how will you read to your child if no one has ever done it for you?
Our Athlete Ambassador Shannon Pohl sees stories of students growing up on both sides of the divide. Shannon is a badminton coach at Golder College Prep, the only IHSA badminton team in the city of Chicago. But she is also a World Sport Chicago’s Athlete Ambassador and currently serves as a role model for 75 elementary students at Patrick Henry Elementary in the Irving Park neighborhood.
Low-income students are missing a lot more than material wealth. The schools they attend offer fewer sports. They are less likely to attend after-school programs. They have few, if any positive role models. As Mark Alvarado, the PE teacher from Henry Elementary, explained, â€śOur students have a tough time with things like identity and expressing themselves in a positive way.Â Shannon has necessary and important social and emotional skills. She has also introduced basic badminton skills to our students.â€ť
Robert Putnam, famous for his book Bowling Alone, said â€śIf we can begin to think of these poor kids as our kids, we would not sleep for a second before we figured out how to help them.â€ť This is exactly how coach Pohl approaches students at Henry:Â â€śItâ€™s important to treat others as you would want to be treated.”
WSC Ambassadors and other mentors serve at over 30 Chicago â€śvillages.â€ť If we are to successfully help children who are growing up without tutors, coaches, counselors, or sometimes even parents, we need to make schools in every village of Chicago the centers of their communities. And we canâ€™t do so without bringing the community to these schools â€• Ambassadors like Pohl, who have skills and tools to engage children in the activities that matter tremendously for their brain development; mentors who have the potential to introduce fairy tales to children with less educated and poor parents; role models who can show these students opportunities they might otherwise never touch.
â€śShannon is so cool and fun. I have learned from her that setting goals and accomplishing them is possible,â€ť 6th grade Alexis said. 12 year-old Nancy added she learned from Pohl how to hold the racket and to work with a team.
WSC Ambassadors extend opportunities equally to all of the students, regardless of their ethnicity, race, gender, age, class or religion. As student Armando reflected after Pohlâ€™s recent visit at Henry, â€śWhat I like best about Shannon is that she is so nice to everyone.â€ť Armandoâ€™s experience echoed Mandelaâ€™s message that â€śOvercoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.â€ť
Poverty isnâ€™t just deprivation in well-being. Itâ€™s also a form of isolation. We need to revive our sense of communal responsibility and, like Pohl, start thinking about our neighborhoods as our own, and treat CPS students as â€śour kids.â€ť To break the silence of fairy tales â€“ give students the opportunity to put good in bad-minton; empower them so that they can grow up to the leaders within their communities; and to give them the ability to become scientists like Einstein.