Canton School District teachers and staff gain perspective through poverty simulator


Lyndon Alderton, 6-12 band and vocal teacher for the Canton School District, played the part of 20-year-old Kaylee Quant and his baby Clarice Quant on Monday afternoon's poverty simulator hosted by NECAC for the school's professional development day. Megan Duncan

CANTON, Mo. — Albert Abers, 43, never dreamed his family of four would one day end up in a homeless shelter. He said it happened fast after he was laid off from his job of more than 20 years.

Thankfully, Abers was participating in a poverty simulation on this week at Canton Elementary in Canton. His real name is Beau Turgeon, a special needs teacher for grades 7-9, and his family was made up of colleagues also participating in the simulation.

The Poverty Simulator is a program through Northeast Missouri Community Action (NECAC).

While students had the day off, teachers spent their professional development day stepping into many of their shoes. The school gymnasium was filled with clusters of colleagues divided into family units, each with fake names and different living situations. 

Although the names were made up, the scenarios were not. The hard circumstances each family unit dealt with was a real one experienced by those who have sought help from NECAC. 

They lived one month in the life of someone else in four 10-minute increments to represent a month. They dropped their young ones off at daycare or got them to the school bus while dealing with circumstances such as job loss, big medical expenses, and home evictions.

Going around from table-to-table and attempting to pay bills with not enough money landed many of them in the homeless shelter, and some in jail for various circumstances. They had to make sure their family had the required amount of food, deal with unexpected factors in life, and keep their children in school.

Turgeon said even in a small town like Canton, his students go through similar scenarios, and sometimes it’s students he never would have expected.

“It’s difficult for students. We don’t always know the full story, or what our students are going through at home, but it’s important for us to come to school every day and have a good attitude,” he said.

Heather Feldkamp teaches third grade at Canton Elementary. She played the part of Abers’ pregnant 16-year-old daughter, and sat with him in the makeshift homeless shelter.

Feldkamp said she’s had students in the past who did not have a secure home, and bounced around, sleeping at various family members and friends’ houses. 

“Oftentimes, they are more worried about where they’re going home that night than about their schoolwork,” she said.

Students who experience poverty are often unable to participate in various school activities their parents are unable to afford.

“As we are having things like field trips, or other extras, they won’t be able to provide it to their kids. Parents have to tell their kids that they can’t participate in something,” she said. “That’s really hard for this young age group to understand, especially when all your friends are doing it.” 

Brent Engel, NECAC public relations officer, said most teachers already have a deep perspective of what their students go through, but it’s a good reminder.

“It just really drives home the message, that there are a lot of people in need out there. And it’s difficult to understand that kind of helplessness, unless you’re in it even for a few moments like these educators are here today,” he said.

He said NECAC also does the Poverty Simulator with students. He said it is an especially eye-opening experience for them, offering them perspective into other student lives and a deeper understanding of what their parents are going through.

NECAC sponsors another kind of poverty simulation for kids through a program called Reality Enrichment And Life Lessons, or REALL. In this program, students portray people who didn’t finish high school and are struggling to find a job. Students then undergo a simulation where they experience life as a high school graduate with a college degree or trade certificate such as welding.

Engel said it helps students understand the importance of staying in school and pursuing a future.

NECAC recently reported 2022 poverty rates for Northeast Missouri counties from the Census Bureau to be Marion at 14.3 percent; Monroe at 13 percent; Ralls at 11.4 percent; and Pike at 14.9 percent. The Northeast Missouri county with the highest poverty rate was Audrain at 17.9 percent.

Lyndon Alderton, band and vocal teacher, played the part of Kaylee Quant, 20-year-old mother of one-year-old Clarice Quant. While attending college, Kaylee lived at home with her single father and nine-year-old brother.

Alderton said with the monthly income of $1,517 and $190 in food stamps, the family’s biggest struggle was keeping food in the house and paying childcare for Clarice. The circumstances are relatable to Alderton, and his own experience offers him a heads-up in recognizing what students might be going through.

“I can relate to this guy. I was a single parent once so I know the struggles they go through,” he said. 

Mark Tipton, paraprofessional at Canton High School, works with people who are homeless in various cities to provide them with meals and clothing. He said most stories have similarities.

“When I’m out on the streets, the stories are often the same. ‘I had a job and I lost my job. Then I lost my car, and then I was on the streets,’” he said. “It can happy to anyone especially if you don’t have family, or somebody near that you can crash with it. We’re all just really, really close to the same circumstances.”

To learn more about NECAC visit their website.

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