Dear Decaturish – Teaching the price of poverty

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 11, 2014


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Dear Decaturish,

I’m writing to talk to you about a lesson, the kind of lesson that all great teachers chase.  The lesson that a student will think back on in years to come as the one that changed her, the one that made her see the world in a way she hadn’t seen it before, a way she couldn’t un-see, even if she wanted to.  Sometimes those lessons happen in energetic groups of thirty students.  Sometimes they happen quietly, one-on-one in a hallway with no one else looking.  Rarely do they happen in a crowd of 320 ninth graders, all together, all in one day.

But that’s exactly the kind of lesson that a group of DHS freshman economics teachers are trying to pull off on February 10, 2015 with a daylong symposium called The Price of Poverty.  On that day, all of our ninth grade students will participate in an unprecedented attempt to learn a hard lesson and to learn it well.  Our students will learn about poverty and what it costs us all.  They’ll learn something about the day-to-day realities of living with a shortage of money and an abundance of stress.   They’ll learn about the threats of income disparity to our own country’s prosperity, and they’ll learn about what poverty means for children and adults experiencing food scarcity in parts of the world they’ve never seen.  But maybe the most important lesson they’ll learn will be about their own power, working together, to do something about a problem.

Students will participate in an intensive poverty simulation facilitated by Emory professor and DHS parent, Michael Rich.  They’ll view and discuss a documentary about income disparity in the US, and they’ll participate in an ambitious service project.  In partnership with Stop Hunger Now, students will work together to package 60,000 nutritious, ready-to-cook meals to ship to school feeding and crisis relief programs around the globe.

This brings me to the point of my letter.  We want the wider Decatur community to get involved in our learning, to help us meet our goals for our symposium, and maybe to learn a lesson themselves.  There are two ways members of the community can get involved:

1) Participate in Dine In, Decatur! During this holiday season, take a night to “dine in” with your family or friends and calculate the amount you would have spent dining out at one of your favorite eateries. Donate the difference between what you spent dining in and what you would have spent dining out: All proceeds go toward funding the meal-packaging event on February 10.  Each meal costs 29¢ and feeds six people, so a little bit goes a long way.

2) Sign up to participate in a Community Poverty Simulation where Decatur residents will have an opportunity to participate in the same poverty simulation that the students will experience. Michael Rich will facilitate the poverty simulation from 6:30 to 9:00 PM on February 5 at First Christian Church of Decatur, and community members can sign up to experience the simulation by emailing Amy Pfeufer at Participation is limited to sixty people.

One of the lessons that 21st Century educators have been charged with teaching our students is to appreciate the perspective of others, to consider the world through the experiences of people unlike themselves.  That’s no small task, but at DHS, we think we’re up to it.  We think our students are up to it.  We’re ready to try, and we hope the community will help. Dine in. Donate. Sign up. Get involved.


Cheryl Nahmias

International Baccalaureate Coordinator

Decatur High School

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Maureen Sweatman

    So glad to see this happening! I’ve participated in Dr. Rich’s poverty simulation and it is a powerful experience.

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