Academics, athletics affected by poverty

Poverty is not just in third-world countries. Sometimes it is as close as the backyard. It not only affects academic performance, but can hinder students in athletics as well.

Michael Conley, Murray Elementary physical education teacher, said 20.8 percent of those under the age of 18 are living in poverty.

He said it not only affects a child’s well-being, but also his or her academic success as well.

“When students don’t have some of their basic needs met, like proper nutrition for example, it is difficult for them to concentrate,” Conley said.

He said along with the effects of malnutrition, a student may be worried or emotional about situations in his or her home lives.

Conley said hunger, a direct result of poverty, can produce a lack of cognitive ability as well as self-esteem, endurance and attention span.

“The physical and emotional stress of poverty can affect all of these,” Conley said. “If we are hungry or under emotional strains, we probably wouldn’t feel much like studying.”

The toll on the child’s physical welfare may be less painful than the emotional trauma.

“In some cases, older siblings may have to have jobs to help support the family after school, taking away study time,” Conley said. “Being in an environment where students and athletes around you have a lot of material things; cars, phones, spending money and things like that can make the impoverished feel left out and lower self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.”

Because students’ families might not be able to afford athletic equipment, children living in poverty may not be able to participate in camps or purchase the equipment needed to play on teams.

“Athletes from impoverished backgrounds may suffer academically and athletically because of the effects of malnutrition or emotional stress,” Conley said.

Despite poverty’s price tag, teachers, coaches and communities often do whatever they can to lessen the burden on their students.

“In my 17 years as an educator and athletic coach, I’ve seen a number of students from poverty,” Conley said. “Teachers do an amazing job every day of working to meet needs of students not only to maximize learning, but because they care for their students.

He said, as a coach, he knows the position has a tremendous influence on players.

Location of the school is an important factor in ensuring students are not left out because of finances, Conley said.

“Murray is a very generous town,” he said. “My school district has resources for students who need financial support for sports participation.”

He said he has not known of any child who has been excluded because of lack of resources.

Not just grade schools experience poverty. Conley said paying college athletes stipends is an idea that needs to be considered.

“An interesting debate has taken place in recent years about paying stipends to college athletes as many athletes come to campus with little or no financial resources,” he said. “I heard one college basketball coach mention that some of his players over the years couldn’t even afford to get basic necessities like toothpaste.”

He said at the same time, at large athletic programs the revenue student-athletes generate, bring millions of dollars to the universities.

Said Conley: “It is definitely a matter schools and governing athletic associations should continue to discuss.”