Pratt USD 382 teachers and administrators learned poverty lessons from Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz who escaped from poverty with the help of the Circles program during a professional learning day in the district.

A way out of poverty was the lesson teachers got on a Professional Learning Day Oct. 30 with Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz of ESSDAK sharing her journey out of poverty and drugs and what it took to succeed.

Lewis-Pankratz was able to escape a Circles program that match up person with a coach and someone who is there to support them no matter what the issue.

The future didn't look good for Lewis-Pankratz at a young age. On her first day in the sixth grade, she realized that her family was very poor and she felt shame. She told her step-dad to let her off several blocks from school so the other students couldn't see her car. She had one pair of jeans for the entire school year.

In school, she would go into class and ask off-the-wall questions to deliberately keep the teacher from getting to the lesson plan. She got in fights with other girls and by age 16 she worked jobs where she would work extra hours and get paid under the table. Because of her long hours, she was often tired in school. A creative writing teacher, Mr. Hudson, saw her fatigue as a freshman and would have a cup of coffee on her desk when she arrived at school. He showed an interest in her and talked with her about her situation.

Another teacher, Mrs. Altegrin, stood up for her in her class. She would only attend these two classes and ditch the rest. On her 16th birthday, she called the high school and said she quit. She had fallen in love with someone three years older than she and left town.

She was living in the inner city in California, she was pregnant by age 16, he mother was doing drugs and by the time Lewis-Pankratz was in her 20s, her coping strategy was alcohol and drugs.

She struggled to pay bills, had hard core additions that led to abuse. She prayed to God to change her or him. By 29 she left her marriage, had no job, had no car, no possessions and was pregnant. She was now living in McPherson.

She enrolled in college full time and had a baby the cried full time. There were two more failed relationships and two more baby boys. Her trailer house had holes in the floor, the front door wouldn't close and the kids were wild.

One night Lewis-Pankratz went to a church to ask for diapers and a lady there pointed out a class there that helped people get out of poverty. It met once a week and it was free. And it turned out to be a life changer for her. The kids went to day care and she went to class at Circles. It was kind of scary because she had three boys by three different dads and she was sure they were going to kick the boys out.

"I had a back pack of shame," Lewis-Pankratz said.

Uncertain of how all this would work out because she had a deep resentment of the middle class and didn't' think the people at circles and she spoke the same language. While others talked about things they were going to months ahead of time, she couldn't see past two weeks. She knew how to put out money "fires" but she didn't know how to prevent the first in the first place.

But she took the 18 week class and got allies for support and a coach. She soon discovered everything she thought about the middle class was wrong. There was a common bond of accountability, a commitment from someone else, someone to believe in you, Lewis-Pankratz said.

The ladies told her they were going to lift her up until she could see she was special.

She graduated and was determined to succeed. She had help figuring out how to live life and pay the bills and eventually got out of poverty.

But it wasn't easy. There were 17 incompletes in college and she wanted to quit but her coach said an emphatic "No" and for her to contact the teachers and complete the classes which she did. Lewis-Pankratz was the first one in her family to graduate from college. A friend told her that God had brought her Circles.

The church pastor hired her to be an outreach person. Then an ESSDAK Learning Center wanted her to be a 10 high school consultant because of her background in poverty. They wanted to know what they needed to be doing to help people in poverty. Now she is successful and helping others break the cycle of poverty.

When people are in poverty, even everyday tasks like taking a bath or doing laundry can prove to be a problem. So getting valentines ready for children to take to school or being ready for a school is not a priority. It's not that parents in poverty are anti school, they are pro survival, Lewis-Pankratz said.

While success is important on breaking the poverty cycle, positive relationships are more valuable to a positive outcome.

"Don't focus on success, focus on relationships. Two minutes with a kid 10 times a week will turn that child around," Lewis-Pankratz said. "Relationships and love bring people to where they are supposed to be."

Lewis-Pankratz said birth is the No. 1 cause of poverty. According 2010 statistics 800,000 children are born into poverty every year in the United States. About 50.4 million people live in poverty and 25 percent of those will never get out. In some 47,000 schools, a majority of the students come from low income families.

Circles is a way out, a way to break the cycle of poverty.

@GaleR_Tribune