According to US census data, more children in the Eau Claire School District are experiencing poverty, with no relief in sight.
Across the state of Wisconsin, the percentage of school aged kids living in poverty has grown by more than 30 percent. Here in Eau Claire, the Department of Public Instruction says 14 percent of children living in Eau Claire are living in poverty; that's up more than 50 percent from just four years ago.
And those rising poverty rates are putting added stress on students and their teachers, as instructors struggle to provide emotional and social support to their students.
Thursday we visited Longfellow Elementary which has the highest percentage of students living at or below the poverty line in Eau Claire, at 82 percent of students.
A teacher at Longfellow for more than a decade, Angie Printz says there are things teachers notice that hint at a life lived without the basic essentials
“The way kids come to school, we have kids that their parents aren't able to afford daycare, so they come not ready they may not have socks, or a jacket so we do need to take the time to find the clothing that they need,” Printz explains.
She says many teachers spend a lot of time simply addressing basic needs like food and clothing,” It does take time away, in order for kids to be comfortable and to feel safe, they need to feel that way before they can learn,” she explains.
Danielle Claesges is the school district's homeless program coordinator. She says the number of homeless children attending school is also on the rise. And, she adds it’s a much bigger problem than most people realize.
“I definitely can say there is much more poverty and struggling not only in Eau Claire but all around than people know. Eau Claire is very good at hiding our poverty population because we have a lot of services and we get people help as soon as possible,” Claesges explains.
Luckily Claesges says Eau Claire is filled with teachers and organizations that care, but teachers tell us in the face of ever increasing poverty they're not sure what more than can do.
“Something positive has to happen in this economy for our children and for our struggling families, if it continues to get worse I don't know how much more we can do to help.
Eau Claire County is just one of 42 Wisconsin counties that experienced a significant increase in children living in poverty.