The Changing Face of Poverty and How It’s Impacting Suburban Children

SuburbsMapleton Public Schools—a suburban district just north of Denver, Colorado—serves more than 7,600 students from Pre-K through grade 12 in its 15 schools. Though its enrollment numbers have remained steady in recent years, this district has been grappling with significant changes. In the span of a decade, the number of Mapleton students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch doubled. By the 2010-11 school year, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the student body was eligible for subsidized meals. As the number of low-income students has climbed, so too has the need for extra assistance that will help kids be ready to learn—from clothing and food to additional academic support.

Mapleton Public Schools isn’t alone. Suburban districts across the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have become home to growing low-income populations in recent years. In the last half of the 2000s, the number of suburban students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches grew by 22 percent, compared to an increase of just 8 percent in city districts during that time. At the same time, many school districts are also seeing more students experiencing homelessness.

These trends reflect larger shifts in the geography of poverty within the nation’s largest metro areas. Between 2000 and 2012, the population living below the federal poverty line in the suburbs (roughly $23,500 for a family of four in 2012) grew by 65 percent—more than twice the pace of growth in large cities and faster than the increases registered in smaller metro areas and rural communities—making America’s suburbs home to the largest and fastest growing poor population in the country. By 2012, one in three of the nation’s poor lived in suburbs, and the suburban poor population outstripped the urban poor by 3 million.

Many different factors have driven the rapid rise in suburban poverty since 2000, including changes in the location of affordable housing, the continued outward shift of employment, the impact of two economic recessions, and the growing prevalence of low-wage jobs, the bulk of which are located in the suburbs. Together, all of these dynamics have helped shape the growth in suburban poverty that has touched almost every major metro area in the country.

However, many suburbs lack the kinds of resources and infrastructure that cities have built up over decades to address poverty. The suburban safety net is often patchy and stretched thin, and limited (or no) public transit can make it difficult for poor residents to find affordable transportation to reach services or job opportunities that lie elsewhere in the region. As rising poverty strains limited resources in these communities, suburban schools like Mapleton often find themselves on the frontlines, not only in identifying growing need, but also in responding by trying to fill capacity and resource gaps.

Mapleton Public Schools falls largely in an unincorporated part of Adams County, meaning there is no local government structure like a city council to help provide support, nor are there resources like a recreation district, library, or a human services office, leaving it largely to the school district to address the needs of its low-income students and their families.  Moreover, the public funding the district receives hasn’t kept up with the rapid rise in need it has experienced in recent years, and although Mapleton has stepped up its efforts to attract grants and philanthropic funding to supplement these dollars, even hiring a full-time grant writer, the district still struggles as philanthropic funding has disproportionately gone to the city.

Yet even in this challenging funding environment, Mapleton is one of many suburban districts finding ways to bring much needed resources to help its growing low-income population of students succeed. By partnering with local, state, and national organizations and soliciting donations for things like mental health services, school supplies, and feeding programs, Mapleton has managed to craft a robust continuum of wraparound support services, including school-based therapies, a summer feeding program, a food bank, a clothing bank, and a dropout recovery high school. With this integrated, multifaceted approach to addressing the needs of its low-income and at-risk students, Mapleton’s staff has already seen improvements in the academic performance and outcomes of its students.

In researching our book Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, Alan Berube and I found suburban schools in regions across the country, from the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, Ohio to the South King County districts that make up the Road Map Project in metro Seattle, that, like Mapleton, were taking the lead on filling gaps in capacity through more scaled, collaborative, and integrated strategies to address the complex needs of their low-income students. While this type of approach often extends well-beyond a school district’s educational mandate to respond to basic needs, as Mapleton superintendent Charlotte Ciancio asked when we spoke last October, “If not us, then who?”

While there is clearly a need for more (and more sustainable) resources to help suburban districts respond to these growing challenges, these models underscore that collaboration and partnership can go a long way in helping communities like Mapleton stretch limited resources to improve outcomes for low-income students. For suburban schools grappling with similar challenges, there are many ways for parents, educators, and community members to get involved—from collecting and sharing information to help educate stakeholders on how needs are changing, to collaborating with other districts experiencing similar challenges, to partnering with government officials, nonprofit organizations, and others to more effectively respond to rising need. To learn more, or to share how your community is addressing suburban poverty, visit


Elizabeth Kneebone is a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. Her work primarily focuses on urban and suburban poverty, metropolitan demographics, and tax policies that support low-income workers and communities.

For more information on how your PTA can make a difference in the lives of suburban children, please visit


Want to learn more about how to make a difference for every child? Attend the National PTA Annual Legislative Conference in Arlington, VA from March 11-13! For more information, please visit Can’t attend the conference but still interested in getting involved? Please visit the advocacy web page for tips on how to get started!


Anaphylaxis, A How-To Readiness Guide for Schools

Lunch_Box_StockAllergyHome is proud to collaborate with the National PTA to help schools implement The Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs. These voluntary guidelines help schools create and implement working school policies. Experts, agencies and organizations experienced in food allergy management and anaphylaxis in schools contributed to this guidance document.

One of the priority areas mentioned in the guidelines is educating all students and their families. We at AllergyHome applaud the new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control Guidelines and echo that educating the entire school community is critical.

Students pick up on the messages of their parents and others in the school community. Bullying may arise when there are negative attitudes about food allergies. Replacing these with education can create supportive school communities.

If parents understand why certain food allergy management strategies must be implemented then they can become key players to develop supportive schools. Knowing why students with a food allergy need certain accommodations is important in keeping school communities united over food allergy issues.  Education and communication is critical for everyone. Additionally, many parents host children with food allergies at play-dates and parties, and knowing what it takes to keep these kids happy and safe goes a long way.

Below are four useful resources that PTAs can use to help their schools follow the guidelines.

1) National PTA’s Empowering PTA Parents to Help Create Safer Schools: This is a three part video series designed to help create a safer learning environment for children with severe allergies.

2) Food Allergy Tips For PTA Leaders: This one page handout helps PTA leaders pass food allergy awareness tips along to other parents in the school community.

3)  Awareness Module for Parents: This six minute slideshow with audio was created to increase food allergy awareness in all parents in the school community. It highlights basic facts about food allergies and the constant need for prevention and preparedness. The presentation is designed to help foster an understanding and supportive community.

4) Letter to School Community: A template letter to send to the school community notifying about food allergy policies for the school.

Michael Pistiner, MD, MMSc is a pediatric allergist for Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, as well as a voluntary instructor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. He is the father of a child with food allergies and serves as a voluntary consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, School Health Services. He is a fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics, where he is a member of the Council of School Health and the Section of Allergy & Immunology. He is chair of the Medical Advisory Team for Kids with Food Allergies Foundation, serves on the board of Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, New England Chapter, and is a member of the National (FAME) Food Allergy Management and Education Advisory Board. Dr. Pistiner is the author of Everyday Cool with Food Allergies, a co-author of Living Confidently with Food Allergy, and is co-founder and content creator of

ENGAGE! Parent Involvement 3.0

World_Map_BlogThe Latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores show that 29 nations outperform the US in mathematics, 22 in science, and 19 in reading. Overall, the US was ranked 22nd. The Netherlands, on the other hand, ranked 7th.  Their philosophy on Parent Involvement 3.0 might be one reason why!

I was very excited when Peter De Vries contacted me and my colleagues Jenni Brasington and Ron Mirr to assist in translating Parent Involvement 3.0. Peter has worked in the Netherlands as a teacher in basic and special basic education for almost ten years. Since then, he’s worked as a location manager for an orthopedagogic daycare center for children with mental and physical disabilities while running his own practice as a mediator between parents and schools in both primary and secondary education. Since 2003, he has worked as principal advisor and trainer at CPS Onderwijsontwikkeling en advies. Peter has written several books including Handboek ouders in de school, Mijn kind op school and Ouderbetrokkenheid voor elkaar.

Peter describes the various levels of parent involvement as:

Parent Involvement 1.0
One-sided communication where the school determines the time, format and content of the communication.

Parent Involvement 2.0
Two-way communication that doesn’t actually allow any type of collaboration between home and school.

Parent Involvement 3.0
Communication that allows families and schools to share new information with a common goal – the student!

The strategies in this book were designed based on the Dutch implementation of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.  Different countries have different cultures, so while not everything will be a good fit, this book provides some useful strategies for implementing the National Standards to promote a greater cooperation between families and schools.

If you are interested in learning about this Dutch model of home-school collaboration, Parent Involvement 3.0 is now available in English and you can find the free download at Be sure to check out the forward by National PTA President Otha Thornton and let us know what you think about this approach to home-school partnerships!

ENGAGE! is a weekly column on Family Engagement written by Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA. Sherri is the former Director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center and is currently responsible for developing and implementing programs related to family and community engagement at the National PTA.


Our Children Magazine Celebrates the Arts

OC_Dec_JanIn the December/January issue of National PTA’s Our Children magazine, we get the scoop from the legendary Tony Bennett, his wife Susan and actress Alfre Woodard on the importance of the arts in schools. They will be judges in this year’s Reflections contest and have taken time to talk to us about the excitement of artistic talent and what that means for children to be able to freely express that in the schools they attend.

Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto team up to run a school in New York City specifically catered to the arts. They share the details of that endeavor along with the other things that their foundation does to keep arts education prevalent in schools nationwide. Alfre Woodard shares her personal story of what having access to the arts did for her and how she is giving back by making sure that youth have the same—or better opportunities. We feature a list of some big name A-list celebrities who also support the arts in education.

Are you looking for some good fundraising ideas? In this issue, we talked to five schools across the country that have shared some of their fun and different fundraising tactics. From getting physical to growing mustaches, there is something for everyone. Our partnership with the NFL also gets some spotlight as we highlight our latest Fuel Up to Play 60 event.

If you have been wondering how you can get involved more closely with your students and their schools, check out our helpful guide of 100 ways to help your child and their school succeed. There are some great ideas to help you get started with the process and stay connected to your student, their teachers and the things that your young people are learning.