Poverty Informed Practice Takes Shape At Western

Every barrier that can be removed, should be removed. That’s the new motto at Western Technical College’s Learner Support and Transition division.

The slogan comes from Chad Dull, the dean of the division. Last summer, Dull challenged his department to become more poverty informed, implementing practices to better accommodate and understand the economic realities of students who come through their doors.

“I’m not sure people realize how many students living in poverty Western serves,” said Dull. “These students have the courage to pursue an education, and they deserve a place that meets their basic needs, creates belonging, and accelerates their progress toward their dreams.”

For Dull, the transition to poverty informed practice is a personal challenge.  

“I grew up poor,” said Dull. “I was not homeless or destitute, but I had a clear sense that I did not have the resources that people around me had. After years of providing training around the topic of poverty and how it intersects with educational success, I decided I wanted to see if we could put our learning into practice.”

This transition to becoming more poverty informed appears in small ways. The signage around the building, such as “STAFF ONLY” or “DO NOT WRITE IN THIS BOOKLET,” did not make students feel like they belonged, according to Dull. As such, he and his team removed or modified this communication, hoping to create a softer and more welcoming tone.

“Our students are our guests, and we will treat them as such,” said Dull. “All these little steps are changing the signals about belonging or not belonging that we had wrong.”

Dull and his team also added a community food bowl in the lobby, letting students know that they can take food whenever they feel necessary. The bowl is filled five times a day, and no judgement is made regarding how much a student takes. The bowl also offers an opportunity for staff to connect with each student.

The foundations of Poverty Informed Practice are simple; meet the basic needs of each student, create a sense of belonging, and accelerate progress at every opportunity to move toward stability.

“One of my office staff purchased nursing scrubs for a student who couldn’t afford them after overhearing a conversation in our lobby,” said Dull. “When I told her that was way above and beyond, she said she felt compelled because it was a barrier she could remove.”

Several practices to meet the needs of economically-challenged students are already in place at Western. The first is a GED Fund, where test fees for the GED exam are covered for those who need it, with no judgement and questions asked.

A FAST Fund is also available for students for emergency funding. The funds require no forms, no waiting, and little red tape. The students are free to use the funds in any matter they feel necessary.

Credit for Prior Learning is also available for students. It allows all students to earn automatic credit for their life experiences, which creates confidence and sense of belonging, especially for students in poverty.

“Our students with barriers teach us how to improve like other students never could,” said Dull. “Approaching others with kindness and respect has a real ripple effect, and we are all better for it.”

To learn more about Western’s Learner Support and Transition division, visit www.westerntc.edu/learner-support-and-transition.