On August 20th, the week before the 2014-2015 school year began for the Finley School District, GEAR UP, in partnership with Finley Administration, brought in Communication Across Barriers speaker, Lynda Coates, to provide River View High School teachers’ professional development before the start of the new school year. Finley GEAR UP Administrators had previously heard Lynda speak twice at the GEAR UP West Conference and appreciated her first-hand knowledge and ideas on poverty. They felt like she would be great for the Finley School District staff to hear, mainly because of the prevalence of poverty in the Finley area. Born into generational poverty Lynda Coates is an authentic speaker who focuses on overcoming poverty as her main message.
When Lynda started her presentation to the staff, she began with her own story. Throughout her childhood her and her five siblings were often living out of cars and campers and rarely attended school. She had two living parents, however her father was an alcoholic and struggled to find work and provide food and shelter for his family, and her mother could not read or write. Growing up Lynda had a special connection with a cousin, Donna Beegle, which would turn out to be the most important connection of her life. At 15 years old, Lynda moved to Portland to live with Donna. Ten years her senior, Donna was a high school dropout and young single mother, but encouraged Lynda to stay in school. Lynda stayed on track, and became the first high school graduate in her family.
At the same time Lynda was graduating high school, Donna was encouraged to obtain a GED and head to college. Donna did, and Lynda followed. Lynda attended s small private college in Portland, and her networking group grew vastly. She was met with more opportunities than ever before and was able to travel, study abroad, build friendships and experience a life she had never known existed. She would eventually go on to finish not only her undergraduate degree, but a master’s degree as well. In her presentation, Lynda directly compares her life after moving to Portland, and her sister Tammy’s back home in one timeline. Tammy’s life was extremely different in comparison. While Lynda’s world view was growing and she was having new and eye-opening experiences, Tammy was at home, without as much as a high school degree and unable to pull herself out of a lifetime of poverty.
After presenting on her own life and experiences Lynda moved on to how administration, teachers, and staff in schools can connect with families in poverty and how best to serve them. Lynda presented 8 strategies that schools could use:
Strategy #1- Withhold Judgment
Strategy #2- Connect Via Oral Culture & Teach Print Skills
Strategy #3- Practice Seeing Strengths
Strategy #4- Focus on Enrichment & Core Skills vs. Remediation
Strategy #5- Foster Belonging
Strategy #6- Influence Motivation by Creating Shared Meaning
Strategy #7- Build Assets & Social Capital
Strategy #8- Build a Full Resource Backpack
Lynda feels that these strategies along with the single most important action educators can take, being a mentor, can really help students and families living in poverty have strong connections with schools and can give these students opportunities to be successful.
GEAR UP was so glad to be able to bring Lynda out to Finley to start the new school year off and was pleased that in partnership with the presentation, the district purchased Dr. Donna Beegle’s book See Poverty…Be the Difference for all certified staff. Throughout Lynda’s talk, Finley School District Admin, Teachers, and Staff were engaged and interested in what she had to say. When asked how she thought the presentation went, Lynda said “They were great! Attentive, and seemed happy to hear it.”
A big thank you to Finley GEAR UP, Lynda Coates, Barb Donaldson with the Finley School District, and Michael Harrington for making Lynda’s visit possible.