Generation poverty can be a big hinderance to self evolution particularly if educators tend to write these students off, this is what Principal Julie Mahn has learned in all her years and she strives to make the situation change.
Introduce the Clip: Both Hartsville principals have compelling stories to tell; Julie Mahn is the first in her family to attend college. No doubt that is true in other schools among faculty and staff. Superintendent Edward Ingram is proud of his experience as a principal and feels that district leaders need to have been principals. He states that the “principal position is probably the most important position in the school district.”
Julie Mahn, principal of Thornwell School of the Arts, wanted to be a teacher from the time she was ten-years-old. This clip tells us how Julie credits her mother for building her aspirations to graduate from college – and how her own success has inspired her to stop the cycle of generational poverty for the children at Thornwell School of the Arts. She tells us that her mother told her repeatedly: “You’ve got to get your education. No one can take that from you.”
• (Ask for a show of hands.) How many of you (to a group of parents/teachers) are first generation college graduates? How many of you now have children or other family members who have also gone to college?
• As a principal Julie Mahn believes her job is to “stop the cycle of generational poverty.” What does that mean? She explains, “I went to college and my son went to college, so we broke that cycle. Our children [at Thornwell] can do it, too.” What can principals and schools do to break the cycle of generational poverty?
• In what way is Julie Mahn’s family background similar to some of the children in her school? (She talks about her family history: her grandfather was a sharecropper who finished eighth grade; her grandmother finished third grade. Her mother left school in the 11th grade. An onscreen statistic tells us that 93 percent of Thornwell’s children qualify as low income by federal standards.) How might this make her a better principal? (We also learn in part two of the film that one in five people in Hartsville do not have a high school diploma.)
• What does Julie Mahn mean by saying that “children are written off because they come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds”? In what way are they written off – and what would be the consequences for those children? How do you think her family background motivates her to set high expectations for her students and, in turn, establishes a path for them to achieve?
Brainstorm ideas about how the school principal sets the tone or creates a climate for children’s achievement. How does s/he work with his/her teachers to create an environment in which children see themselves as having value and being capable of great accomplishments, building their aspirations for a successful future?
Think about action steps that principals or organizational leaders can take to build an organization/school that raises children’s aspirations so that the goal of high school and college graduation are more attainable. How can your school and community leverage 180 Days: Hartsville’s media assets to address or give visibility to this effort?