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Consultant advises Duquesne faculty on communicating with students in poverty

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 8:20 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Jim Littlejohn, a South Carolina educator whose consulting firm specializes in conflict and anger management, provided a program on understanding poverty for professional personnel at Duquesne Education Center on Wednesday afternoon. He also addressed school administrators earlier in the day at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead.

A South Carolina consultant gave lessons on how to communicate with students from poverty-stricken families to school administrators in Homestead and teachers and other staffers in Duquesne on Wednesday.

“How do you develop relationships of mutual respect with your students and their parents?” Jim Littlejohn asked at Duquesne Education Center. “How do you help students develop mutual respect amongst each other?”

Groups of teachers and other education center staffers held numerous mini-panel discussions during the three-hour mix of PowerPoint presentation and clips from newscasts and movies.

“I hope to learn strategies to better communicate with classes, students, other teachers, parents and the community,” said Stanley Whiteman, Duquesne City School District assistant to the superintendent.

“People look at respect in different ways,” Duquesne teacher Diane DeSalvo said. “What might be respectful to me might not be respectful to our children.”

Littlejohn said relationships of mutual respect must include “insistence” or motivation, support of the students and the expectation that the teacher knows a student can do a task.

“We must explain to students and parents that there are two sets of rules,” Littlejohn said. “Survival at home and at school are different.”

Littlejohn drew on some of the “10 Actions to Educate Students” in the 2005 book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” by Ruby K. Payne.

“Why is it that the first waves of political refugees who have come to the United States in abject poverty usually have re-created, within one generation, the asset base they left behind?” Payne asked in an article based on the book that was part of the handouts given to participants.

“They make it out because of human capital,” Payne went on. “Ignorance is just as oppressive as any systemic barrier. Human capital is developed through education, employment, the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and social bridging capital.”

Payne, president of Highlands, Texas-based aha! Process Inc., has written more than a dozen books on strategies for raising student achievement and overcoming economic class barriers.

Littlejohn quoted educator James Comer, who said in 1995 that “no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”

Duquesne teacher Terry Farley described the session as “a refreshment of the empathy and the understanding of what our children are going through.”

Farley said he hopes he can reach out to his students “to bring out the best in them and help them bring out the best in me.”

Littlejohn of P.E.A.C.E. Skills Inc. in Columbia, S.C., first conducted a program on “Poverty and Communication — Parent and Family Engagement” at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Institute for Schools and Communities.

AIU's Sarah McCluan said Littlejohn sought to help participants bridge a gap of understanding between the schools and the poverty found in many homes in the Mon Valley. Participants came from as far away as Erie County.

It was one of a series of programs to be conducted during the school year by the AIU institute. Future programs will deal with legislative advocacy, budgets and finances, media relationships and “Starting the Year Right” in May.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or