How to identify hunger, poverty in the classroom

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Social work professor develops technique for faculty to help food-insecure-insecure students graduate.

By Ashley Bailey

A social work professor is working on a strategy called “holistic retention” that encourages faculty to recognize signs of poverty in the classroom and direct students to campus social services.

“Faculty see students more than any single group on this campus,” said social work program Coordinator Lisa Black. “What faculty has known for years is that lack of comprehension isn’t the only factor contributing to poor performance in class.”

Black, who co-founded this college’s student advocacy center, said a lot of students are forced to drop out because they are hungry, homeless or experiencing a financial crisis.

“When faculty see students who are sleeping in class because they worked all night or don’t have enough gas money to get to school, the student advocacy center can increase the chance of students graduating by providing these basic necessities,” said Black, who opened the center as a resource to provide basic necessities such as food, clothing and case management services to staff, students and faculty suffering from socioeconomic hardship.

Holistic retention recognizes students as more than just students.

“What I like about the holistic retention strategy is that it’s a perspective to force us to think of a human being as a system, with a family, a job and maybe going through academic challenges,” Black said.

Social work sophomore Joseph Mata raises awareness on campus and in his community available resources.

As a father, musician, student and owner of his own nonprofit organization, Mata doesn’t know when he will graduate because of the financial burden of being a student.

“I’m paying everything out of pocket, so I don’t really know when I’ll graduate.” Mata said. “I’m just taking it by semester.”

Struggling to acquire basic necessities has become increasingly common for young adults in this city.

“Last year, the homeless population in San Antonio for ages 18-24 tripled,” Black said. “It tripled in one year.”

She says her purpose for starting organizations such as the student advocacy center was to maximize student retention and increase graduation rates.

Black has heard stories of students dropping out because they didn’t have enough money to pay their utility bill.

“We want to address poverty in a holistic way,” Black said.

“Anyone that comes through the door will be treated with dignity and respect.”

Faculty members can lead students to that door.

“Poverty comes in all shapes and sizes so it’s important to recognize the signs of someone who is too shy or embarrassed to ask for food,” Black said.

Students who are struggling should communicate with faculty about their situation.

“Sometimes students put a lot of trust in faculty because they share passion for a discipline,” Black said. “We want professors to support retention in the classroom and encourage students to seek help.”

For more information, call the student advocacy center at 210-486-1003.


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