Focus on Teaching Students in Poverty

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Article Author: Kathryn Levesque
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Article Date: 03-05-2020
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Dr. Albert Mussad

Albert Mussad, photo by Martha Maloney

Dr. Albert Mussad began presenting to educators about teaching students who experience poverty back in 2016, through his initial work leading the training-of-trainers component of Massachusetts DESE’s Leading Educational Access Project (LEAP) to improve outcomes for students in poverty. The work was a natural outgrowth of his deep focus on students at risk, and on English Learners. Since then, the work has grown. In the past year, Dr. Mussad has been invited to present to educators interested in focusing on this work as far away as Alaska and Wyoming, and as part of the 2019 ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership. It continues to be an important part of the CES focus on social justice and equity matters as they impact education. 

This month, he presented on this topic at the 2020 Migrant Education Program and English Language Development Conference in Harrisburg, PA. The conference was designed to provide interactive workshops and critical discussions for advancing the quality of educational experiences for migrant education and English learner students and families. It’s put on by the Center for Schools and Communities in Camp Hill, PA, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and included Dr. Mussad’s day-long Institute, Improving Outcomes for Students in Poverty. The connection is a strong one, and fits into both the conference’s migrant education strand and poverty in education strand, since approximately 60% of K-12 English learners in the U.S. live in low-income or poverty, and migrant families and students are overrepresented among our nation’s poor.

He continues to provide deep professional development for educators here in western Massachusetts on the topic. He reflected on how presenting this content outside Massachusetts helps our Massachusetts educators and districts: “As I teach other groups, and tailor the content to their specific regional needs, I’m finding that there are commonalities. There’s really a through-line here, because the practices that I’m talking about in the course are, in fact, effective teaching practices for all students, not just students experiencing poverty. But each new group also brings nuances that I’m learning about – challenges that they have, and practices they’ve tried in response – and that allows me to build a much richer ‘toolkit’ to bring back to educators here in western Massachusetts.”

The course can be transformational for participants. Based on their feedback, teachers are realizing the things impacting students that they had not previously seen or looked for, and it’s really changed the whole way they approach their classrooms. In response, CES is launching a new course specifically focused on training trainers, so that districts investing in this work can develop their own teacher leaders to bring back knowledge to their educators.

“Poverty is a form of trauma, and we know that young people living in poverty encounter cognitive, academic, and social-emotional challenges that can be mitigated and overcome through evidence-based interventions at the district, school and classroom levels. As we grow this area of practice, I would love to grow this work into the creation of a larger community that shares practices with each other. This is of great importance to all types of educators, administrators, and support personnel; and there’s increasing interest in how this can bring a new lens to our work with students,” said Dr. Mussad.

Albert E. Mussad, Ph.D., serves as a staff consultant in leadership and instruction at the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton, MA, and travels nationally to facilitate professional development for school leaders, teachers and other licensed educators in instructional leadership; English learner education; world language and bilingual education; adolescent literacy education; and improving outcomes for students in poverty.

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