by Brian Washington
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In his 45-years of driving a school bus for a rural district in Wisconsin, Bob Welsh has met a wide variety of students. However, when his normal route temporarily changed at the beginning of the school year, he encountered three young brothers who reminded him of the old adage—you should never judge a book by its cover.
“Before I took this route, I had been warned about these three—that they were troublemakers and that they were rough and rowdy,” said Welsh, who made up his mind that he would ignore what people had to say and draw his own conclusions. “As it turned out, I ended up getting along just fine with them.”
However, during the 4-months he was assigned to this new route, Welsh said he noticed that the three students—one in high school, the other two in elementary school—were often agitated when he would arrive at their home each morning to pick them up. He soon discovered why when he heard the oldest boy talking with a friend just before the holidays.
“He told him that his family didn’t have any money—both parents had been out of work—and that the family had just $30 left on a credit card,” said Welsh, who believes the teen and his younger brothers were having a hard time grappling with the family’s financial crisis. “And I thought, wow, everybody is bad-mouthing these kids when this is the real problem.”
When parents lose their jobs, adults are not the only ones in the household who suffer. A loss of employment by a mother or father—or both—is also felt by the children, who often carry the difficulties they are facing at home into the classroom. And when a loss of unemployment insurance (UI) is added to the mix, families are left with little hope of making ends meet while students face the strong possibility of having their education disrupted.
We’re seeing a lot of trauma to kids because they have to leave the school situation that they are in—their friends, their comfort zone, their learning environment,” said Maxine Mosley, a middle-school guidance counselor in Manchester, New Hampshire, “because the family can’t afford to stay where they are anymore.
In 2012, UI saved 600,000 children nationwide from poverty. However, on December 28th, it ran out for more than 1.3 million people and since that date, 72,000 people a week have lost their unemployment benefits.
Education Votes, through the Speak Up for Education and Kids Facebook page, recently asked educators to describe what they’re seeing in the classroom in the wake of a loss of benefits for so many Americans in need.
“A lot of my students are coming to school without a jacket because they outgrew their jacket and mommy is trying to find work,” said Patty Matthews.
“Many students are hungry,” said Anne Hendrickson. “One girl told me about being hungry because it was the end of the month. Not extending unemployment benefits will simply cost more in terms of welfare and medical conditions.”
President Obama has called on Congress to approve a proposed 3-month UI extension. The legislation is currently being debated in the Senate, where lawmakers are searching for offsets to fund it. In the meantime, parents without a job and/or unemployment benefits should reach out to their child’s school.
“I think the strongest message I can give to parents is to be honest and open with your school staff,” said Mosley, who points out that, more than likely, there is someone at the school who can track down the right resources and services to help struggling families. She adds that if a student is forced to leave his or her school because the family has to move, parents and educators should work together to ensure a smooth transition.
Welsh has a strong message to give as well —to Congress. He wants lawmakers in the House and Senate to move quickly to approve a UI extension because he says families and children, like the three siblings he met on his bus route, are hurting.
“My route ended in mid-December just before the holidays and I no longer see the boys, but it still bothers me,” said Welsh, who’s back to driving his normal route. “I hope they’re doing alright. I just can’t get them off my mind.”
Click here if you’re an educator to tell us your story about a student who belongs to a family that is struggling after losing unemployment insurance.