Brittany Bower, Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant, East Amwell
“There is great disparity between the achievements of kids who grow up in low income areas and kids who grow up in affluent areas. I actually got my Masters Degree and did my work on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how that affects children. Typically when we think of people with PTSD we think of war veterans or people who have been in traumatic car accidents. But for a child it can look like malnourishment, or abuse against them or someone else in the house, or it can be gangs, or homelessness. And when kids experience PTSD it actually affects their brain, the hippocampus, which is vital to a child’s development. It is vital for the development of their learning, memory and stress response. Kids who have PTSD find themselves in fight or flight responses and that has an adverse impact on their development. So kids in a city like Trenton – where I used to teach – do not have as likelihood of success as more affluent places like East Amwell, where I work now. It is a night and day difference.
“I personally grew up very poor. My parents split when I was 4 or 5. My dad got custody of us. My three sisters and I lived in a studio with him and all shared the same bed, and there was a tiny kitchen to the side, and that’s where I lived. Then when I was eight, my mom passed away. She was drinking and driving and got into a car accident. That was difficult and something I still struggle with. I didn’t realize it at the time, but our mom had abandoned my sisters and me. Then my sisters and I were really by ourselves with my dad.
“My dad had to work a lot. So, when we got home from school, he wasn’t home. And that is very similar to what I saw with kids I had in Trenton. There was no one there to help them with their homework and make sure they got it done. When I was growing up, I never did my homework. I realize that I am one of the lucky ones to get out of my situation and turn my life around, which is why I am an advocate for my students. I want them to have the same chance that I did.”
Interview by Gregory Andrus. Photo supplied by Brittany Bower.