How kids are faring in the recession

Julianne Hing at Colorlines reported on the findings of the Annie E. Casey Foundation 2011 Kids Count Data Book (which tracks indicators of child welfare such as poverty, infant mortality rates and school achievement) showing that one in five U.S. kids are living in poverty, but “for kids of color, the numbers are much worse. More than one in three black kids—a full 36 percent of black youth—live in poverty and 31 percent of Latino kids lives in poverty.”

What’s more, researchers are beginning to track the links between poverty and kids’ psychological and educational development. Researchers at Cornell University have found that kids who grow up in poverty are deeply affected by the instability of their home lives, and those environmental stressors hamper their ability to excel in school. It seems intuitive, but there’s growing evidence that there’s, in fact, a causal relationship between family income and kids’ academic success.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported recently that “[s]tudents preparing to apply to college are increasingly tailoring their summer plans with the goal of creating a standout personal statement — 250 words or more — for the Common Application in which to describe ‘a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.’ Specialized, exotic and sometimes costly activities, they hope, will polish a skill, cultivate an interest and put them in the spotlight in a crowded field of straight-A students with strong test scores, community service hours and plenty of extracurricular activities.” Jenny Anderson, For a Standout College Essay, Applicants Fill Their Summers, N.Y. Times, Aug. 6, 2011, at A1:

Josh Isackson, an 18-year-old graduate of Tenafly High School in New Jersey, spent the summer after his sophomore year studying Mandarin in Nanjing, China. The next year he was an intern at a market research firm in Shanghai. When it came time to write a personal statement for his college applications, those summers offered a lot of inspiration.

… So Mr. Isackson wrote about exploring the ancient tombs of the Ming dynasty in the Purple Mountain region of Nanjing, “trading jokes with long-dead Ming Emperors, stringing my string hammock between two plum trees and calmly sipping fresh green tea while watching the sun set on the horizon.”

Jill Tipograph, who founded a consulting company called Everything Summer, helped Mr. Isackson plan the China trips. To Ms. Tipograph, his experience was the best possible outcome: he loved China, and the trips offered priceless fodder for the cutthroat college application process. (Mr. Isackson will attend Yale University this fall.)

“Students are planning their summer experiences to augment who they are and discover who they are, and that absolutely helps the college process,” she said.

Responses included the following:

To the Editor:

Such college essays reveal wealth and opportunity more than intrinsic scholarly aptitude.

Most high school students can barely afford college as it is, never mind forgo the main opportunity they have to make money to get themselves over the financial bar. Most cannot even consider taking nonpaying internships, never mind ones that entail the additional expense of flying to China and maintaining a residence there.

Perhaps college admissions boards should give points to the students who can identify challenges and ethical choices in the quotidian events of high school rather than to the students whose privileged lives afford them exotic adventures, and discount the “bought” experiences that drop into their laps.

Middle Grove, N.Y., Aug. 6, 2011

To the Editor:
College applicants who hire consultants to arrange trips and decorative internships so they can write a standout college essay could save money by looking for some of the “lost children” in Charles M. Blow’s accounting of America’s hungry and homeless, low achievers and dropouts (column, Aug. 6).

A consultant in your article says self-discovery “helps the college process” by giving students something to write about. Instead of a trip to India or China, a few weeks as a volunteer addressing the struggles of 12th-grade students who cannot read, or listening to the stories of a fraction of the many homeless children in public schools, might bring the shock of recognition that drives all good writing.

Endwell, N.Y., Aug. 7, 2011
The writer is an associate professor of English, Binghamton University, SUNY.

Charles M. Blow, The Decade of Lost Children, Aug. 6, 2007, at A17:

One of the greatest casualties of the great recession may well be a decade of lost children.

According to “The State of America’s Children 2011,” a report issued last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, the impact of the recession on children’s well-being has been catastrophic….

• The number of children living in poverty has increased by four million since 2000, and the number of children who fell into poverty between 2008 and 2009 was the largest single-year increase ever recorded.

• The number of homeless children in public schools increased 41 percent between the 2006-7 and 2008-9 school years.

• In 2009, an average of 15.6 million children received food stamps monthly, a 65 percent increase over 10 years.

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