Students Learn Powerful Lessons from Poverty Simulation

Students Learn Powerful Lessons from Poverty Simulation
Students Learn Powerful Lessons from Poverty Simulation

For Lakota East sophomore Taylor Tuazon, a recent class exercise was “one of the most stressful things (she’s) ever done, but also one of the most impactful.”

An hour-long poverty simulation, facilitated by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, thrusted Taylor and about 65 of her AP U.S. History classmates into different familial roles – the single head-of-household parent, the primary caregiver grandparent, the uncle suffering from a severe illness, or the child with significant financial responsibilities, for example. In family units of three or four, students had but one task: survive.

Every 15 minutes represented a week. Families were challenged to do pretty ordinary things like go to work, go to school, find childcare, pay their mortgage, buy groceries, pay their utilities or go to the doctor. The challenging part: It all had to be done with very limited resources and time. 

Limited transportation options, little to no income, restricted social services, childcare dilemmas, eviction notices and plain bad luck were just some of the factors that forced students to make some very difficult decisions. Some resorted to crime, while others kept their child home from school to provide childcare so they could go to work. Long lines formed quickly at the bank and social service agencies set up around the room, while the healthcare facility received no patrons the entire time.

East teacher Jennifer Reid explained that the simulation directly links with many of the eras they study closely throughout the year, including the government’s response to different social and economic outcomes. It’s an opportunity for students to experience firsthand how the “system” operates in a real-life scenario.

But it’s also much more than identifying the pitfalls and brainstorming solutions. 

“I work really hard in this class to develop empathy in my students,” Reid said. “It’s about helping them understand what some people are up against and how difficult and sometimes uncontrollable circumstances make it really difficult to climb out of poverty.”

In the end, the exercise did just that for many of the students who spoke up during the group debrief.

“For me, it broke a lot of stereotypes about why poor people do the things they do. There’s nothing easy about being in that position,” said sophomore Logan Lockhart.

“I realized how important it is for every person in the community to help their neighbors when times get tough,” said sophomore Jamie Peterson.

“Society has a certain perception of why people fall into poverty, but the reality is that unexpected things can come out of nowhere and it can happen to anyone,” said East sophomore John Ferguson. “There’s a certain stigma and I think we’re almost desensitized to it.”


A poverty simulation, facilitated by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, had a big impact on Lakota East AP U.S. History students.