Mount professor reveals educator’s role in combating poverty

March 16, 2020

Sonya Abbye Taylor, associate professor of Education at Mount Saint Mary College.

Sonya Abbye Taylor, associate professor of Education at Mount Saint Mary College, recently presented “Poverty: There But For Fortune” for local educators.  

In a small town on the outskirts of a large, thriving city, residents have been without potable water for years. Two counties west of a capital city, residents are living with raw sewage flowing into open trenches from their homes through uncovered PVC pipes. The unsanitary conditions have caused a resurgence of hookworm. These scenarios may seem like descriptions of impoverished lives in the world’s least developed countries, but in fact they depict conditions in the United States of America.

“Why should we be concerned about poverty, especially as educators?” asked Taylor. Because, she says, “the United States has higher rates of childhood poverty than any other industrialized country.”

According to the professor, 21 percent of all children in the United States are living in poverty. Furthermore, nearly half of all people living in extreme poverty are 18 years old or younger.

There’s more than one kind of poverty, Taylor explained. Generational poverty is when two or more generations of a family have been impoverished due to familial circumstances. This creates a sense of hopelessness, said Taylor. The other kind of poverty is situational. This is when someone’s otherwise normal circumstances change, causing them to live below their regular means.

“Poverty is more than being poor,” Taylor explained: poverty and trauma are synonymous. Trauma causes defects in brain developments. And brain development issues affect the classroom. Such children have limited attention spans and poor executive functions, she explained.

According to Taylor, to combat this, educators of poverty-stricken children should be good role models, provide positive experiences, create safe and academically stimulating environments, and try to connect with their students.

Mount initiatives such as the yearly Poverty Simulation, as well as Wonderful World of Words, are designed to help current and future educators to better meet the needs of children in poverty.

“With your thoughtful actions and reactions, with your supportive intervention, you can be the force that changes a child’s life for the better,” she said.

Taylor is the co-advisor to the Mount’s Sigma Tau Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, whose members have been providing an after-school program for children ages 3 to 14 at the Newburgh Ministry on Broadway for almost five years. Serving on the Newburgh Teacher Center’s Policy Board led her to become a certified Poverty Simulation Trainer and to her research in the many aspects and impact of poverty.

Taylor is a former special educator and crisis intervention teacher who worked in school districts with varying demographics including those with high poverty. She served as the chair of the Education Department at the College of New Rochelle, was an educational consultant working with schools and industry, and was an assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in two school districts. Because of her background, Taylor has been working closely for the past four years with the Bishop Dunn Memorial School near the Mount campus to develop programs and support professional development for teachers.

The talk was part of the college’s Investigating Research on Campus (iROC) series. The goal of the college’s iROC is to “provide a forum for Mount faculty, staff, and students to showcase their research endeavors with both Mount Saint Mary College and the local community in a manner easily understood by attendees,” explained series coordinator Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of Biology. Presentations include research proposals, initial data collection, and completed research projects.

Mount Saint Mary College is ranked a Top-Tier University by U.S. News & World Report, and offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs for careers in healthcare, business, education, social services, communications, media, and the liberal arts.