JENISON, Mich. (WOOD) - That 20% more Ottawa County children were living in poverty in 2008 than in 2005, according to the Kids Count in Michigan report out Tuesday, is no surprise to elementary school principal Rane Garcia.
The principal at Jenison's Bursley Elementary said she sees poverty's effects in everything from sick days to homework.
Some of the school's families "don't have as much time to help their kids with homework at night because they're worried about making their bills -- or they're working a second job in the evening," Garcia said. "So, we see a decrease in kids getting their homework done. We have to provide more supports for them to do that."
Roughly 25% of Jenison Public Schools students meet poverty standards for a free and reduced lunch, Superintendent Tom TenBrink said. It's roughly 40% at Bursley. Garcia said more students are unable to pay for field trips. Families stressing about paying for the basics are leading to behaviorial problems at the school, she said.
And, the principal said, more students are coming to school sick.
"I think that's because our parents need to work, they need to be at their job," she said. "They need to earn that paycheck and they need a safe place for their kids."
Despite some students facing challenges, the principal said, her students are excelling on state standardized tests. And area churches and other donors have stepped up to provide everything from snacks to backpacks for students.
More children are living in poverty statewide , according to the Kids Count report.
Although Ottawa County's overall poverty rate -- 8.9% -- remains below the state average of 19.3%, the 20% rate of growth exceeds the state average.
The 12% growth rate in Kent and Muskegon counties is also above average. Kalamazoo County's 2% is below the average.
Poverty is defined in the report as earning $21,800 or less for a family of four.
The report's latest poverty data comes from 2008. Given the job losses since then, in West Michigan and across the country, it's possible if not probable, that rates have increased.
The Kids Count report also shows abuse and neglect cases in the largest West Michigan counties are on the rise, but infant mortality rates are largely declining, especially in Muskegon County.
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