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Educators explore poverty, brain-building in Childcare Resources workshop

“Many of us learned to be teachers in a world that did not recognize all of the differences in children and their lived experiences,” noted Dr. Tammy Pawloski at a recent Childcare Resources workshop. “Now, we know that brains are changing every second of every day. Brains are built, not born.”

A group of women stand, talking to each other.
Dr. Tammy Pawloski, left, talks with participants during a demonstration of how poverty can impact future success.

Why Poverty Matters, featuring Dr. Pawloski, Francis Marion University’s Director of the Center of Excellence for Teachers of Children of Poverty, was attended by nearly 100 early educators from across Indian River County. The workshop was funded by Indian River County Children’s Services Advisory Committee and PNC Grow up Great, with additional support provided by Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company.

Citing Indian River County’s 11.8% poverty rate, Dr. Pawloski focused on poverty’s significant impact on the brain. Though focusing on the traditional financial definition of poverty, she expanded the definition to mean lacking any of the resources needed to be successful including social, cognitive, physical, and emotional. In exploring how this lack of resources changes the developing brain, Dr. Pawloski also reaffirmed the value of high-quality early childhood education in remediating those deficits.

“We can change the brain if we know what to do,” said Dr. Pawloski. “With everything you say, and in your classrooms, you are building your students’ brains. When the lightbulb goes on, you did that. You are a brain builder.”

A woman sits at a table, speaking into a microphone.
Yehsica Folkerds, Director of Bridges Early Learning Center, shares a reflection on how she builds relationships with her students and their families.

In addition to providing those brain-building learning experiences, Dr. Pawloski emphasized the value of building relationships with students and their families. Noting that classroom disruptions were reduced by 31% when students had a strong relationship with their teacher, she further connected it to future success, referencing a study in which nine out of ten people believed their path out of poverty could be traced back to a single relationship with a key person like a teacher or a coach.

“Building strong relationships between parents and children can help improve children’s mental health and academic performance,” said Marilyn, a local four-year-old teacher in attendance. “Providing parents with resources and support to improve their parenting skills can help them create a nurturing environment for their children.”


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