Andy Rachford finds himself sitting in his fourth grade classroom, surrounded by children who may or may not be ready to conquer the day’s science lesson. Rachford, a 23-year-old who, fresh out of college, is new to being the head of the classroom, along with the environment that comes with this specific one.
Rachford’s class is filled with children who may have slept in different places every night that week, who go through life with a single parent; one that might have a fleeting presence in their life along with a second parent absent. Children, who spend more time worrying about where their dinner is coming from that night than what Rachford’s lesson plan has in mind for them.
Rachford serves a classroom full of children who are worrying about things no fourth grader has any business needing to worry about, and yet they have to.
Squeezed into the inner city of Newport, in the area considered within the boundaries of Census Tract 505, Newport Intermediate School (NIS) sits surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Newport on the Levee and small businesses, along with the stereotypes that plague the area.
Newport’s westside is an area known for small businesses, abandoned and forgotten foreclosed homes, and residents who live at or below the poverty level.
Newport Intermediate School serves a great number of children coming from low income households that are considered at or below the poverty line.
Rachford, who student taught at Newport Intermediate as a college student at Northern Kentucky University, recently joined the faculty this school year as a reading aid and now serves the role as a fourth grade science teacher.
“I applied for teaching jobs all over Northern Kentucky but Newport was the only place to take a chance on hiring a teacher fresh out of college,” Rachford said of his teaching position.
Rachford’s first full-time teaching job in the inner city has been filled with challenges that are scarce in suburban schools.
As a student teacher for Newport Intermediate, Rachford had a sense of the poverty and challenges that plagued the students and the affects it had on their schooling. However, since beginning his full-time position, Rachford has had the unfortunate opportunity to really see the effects poverty has on students and the school system that serves such an area.
He admits that the biggest challenge as a teacher at Newport Intermediate is the “baggage” that each student has.
“Most of our students do not have stable home lives as a result of poverty, homelessness, lack of parental supervision, parents incarcerated,” Rachford said.
Therefore, while trying to teach science, Rachford also takes on the roles of a counselor, social worker, and sometimes even a parental figure for his students. He claims that some of his students have seen and had to deal with situations that he, more than 10 years their elder, cannot even imagine.
“For many students, I am the most consistent man in their life. I take that very seriously and try to be a good example for all of my students, especially my boy students who do not have father figures at home,” Rachford said.
To aid these students who are living in poverty, Newport Intermediate provides breakfast and lunch for all students daily. In addition, students are provided with three healthy snacks a week to eat in the afternoon.
Newport Intermediate School doesn’t stop there in aiding their students. Rather than only worrying about the children during the week while they’re in school, they are thought of through each weekend as well. NIS grants students in need “Power Packs” at the end of the week which are grocery bags filled with non-perishable food items for the students to eat through the weekend.
Rachford puts in the effort to monitor the appearances of each student to makes sure that their clothes are clean and that they are showing good hygiene. Also, the students are required to wear a uniform each day which indirectly helps students who come from homes without the necessary funds to dress them in different clothes each day.
“This helps because students are not judged if they do not have a lot of different clothes to wear to school,” Rachford said.
However, NIS and it’s faculty can only do so much for its students during school hours. After school, the students must return to lives that may be full of poverty and situations that are way above their maturity level.
“Most children at my school are forced to grow up a lot faster than they should because of their circumstances,” Rachford said.
The results of these students’ home lives become very evident in the classroom. Class interruptions are commonplace due to behavioral issues. Rachford believes that this is the biggest difference between NIS and other suburban schools.
“As a result of the lower socio economic area I teach in, many students do not receive a lot of discipline at home so teachers are forced to teach students content as well as teach them discipline, manners, and patience,” Rachford said.
Rachford has also had to find a way to get through to students who may have experienced abused or other horrible experiences at home. He has many stories of children who have gone through situations that are mostly unheard-of in other suburban neighborhoods.
For example, Rachford teaches a child who has been subjected to abuse by a step-parent that no longer feels safe in their own home and as a result, cannot sleep at night. This results in the student coming to school exhausted all of the time and being unable to focus in the classroom.
“I hear many sad stories about students everyday,” Rachford said.
Rachford has even picked up a Christmas card, forgotten by one of his students, from his father who was in the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
As a teacher at Newport Intermediate School, Rachford’s job entails more responsibility and patience than the average teaching position, but that’s part of why he loves his job.
“The most rewarding part is being a consistent role model for students to see and hear everyday,” Rachford said.
“The most rewarding part is when you know you made a difference in a child’s life,” Rachford said, “[especially] when students stop you in the hallway to say hi or give you a hug.”