Chicago Sun-Times, January 10, 2008: ‘If you’re poor, you have to work harder… nothing is fair’

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Downstate Cairo has the highest percentage of poor school-agechildren in the state and ranks 15 in the nation, according to new U.S.census figures.

Ford Heights District 169 is the third poorest in Illinois.

Poorest districts

Chicago area school districts with the highest percentage of poor children (name, area rank, state rank):

1. Ford Heights District 169 3
2. W. Harvey-Dixmoor District 147 15
3. Harvey District 152 26
4. Chicago Heights District 170 27
5. Posen-Robbins Elementary District 143-5 28
6. Hazel Crest District 152-5 29
7. Chicago District 299 34
8. Lincoln Elementary District 156 38
9. Burnham District 154-5 53
10. Chicago Ridge District 127-5 55

Source: U.S. Census

And Chicago comes in 34th, with 26 percent of the city’s population between the ages of 5 and 17 living in poverty.

“If you’re poor, you have to work harder. That’s the way life is;nothing is fair,” said Alex Boyd, superintendent of West Harvey DixmoorSchool District 147, which is the 15th poorest in the state.

“Our job is to overcome poverty and help students realize thatcircumstances don’t dictate their future. We’re trying to teach kidsthat even though you are poor, you can learn to read, write, computeand cope with the world at large.”

The census estimates were calculated using, among other statistics,2005 median household incomes and federal tax and food stamp records.They took into account all children living in each community as opposedto the student populations in the schools, which may account fordifferences from Chicago Public Schools data.

According to Chicago Public Schools, 85 percent of its students livein poverty and are eligible for free meals. But Chicago uses differentcriteria to calculate poverty.

Among all Illinois districts, the average tally of students living in poverty was 12 percent.

Many low-income students come to school hungry and suffer emotionalstress, posing hurdles for teachers, said CPS Chief Education OfficerBarbara Eason-Watkins.

“Our educators work very hard to overcome these obstacles and givechildren from low-income families the skills that are necessary tobreak the cycle of poverty, and we need more resources to help dothat,” she said.

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