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Poverty Impacts Opportunity Gap

When students enter school they are immediately situated into a complex system of stratification influencing academic, social, and emotional experiences. This educational hierarchy, which purposely separates students from one another, historically disadvantages those students from low-income populations (Apple, 1995, 2004).

Many low-income students slowly progress through school without a tangible understanding of the ultimate purpose of schooling or the impact education has on future social and economic mobility (Spring, 2007). As a result, many children’s identities are shaped by daily struggles rather than by long-term aspirations and a well-built understanding of the choices available to them after high school. For many low-income children, because they come from families who operate with a sense of constraint and accept the actions of people in charge (Lareau, 2003), they are at a disadvantage.

Schools are not politically, socially, or economically neutral places. When children from lower income families enter into these spaces unprepared to deal with unanticipated expectations, unfair assumptions, and marginalizing norms, it places them at a clear disadvantage. This situation leads to both social and academic stratification, quietly aids in the establishment of institutionalized academic barriers, and exemplifies how schools provide opportunity and success for some but serve as a mechanism of constraint for others.

The “opportunity gap” present in many schools, can be described as “the accumulated differences in access to key educational resources—expert teachers, personalized attention, high- quality curriculum opportunities, good educational materials, and plentiful information resources—that support learning at home and school” (p. 28). Cultural capital is influenced by dominant cultural values, norms, and beliefs; cultural capital provides various social, political, economic, and academic advantages to certain members of society; and cultural capital is unequally distributed to members of society.

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. IINII has extensive experience building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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