NEWPORT, R.I. - Debra Curtis, assistant professor of anthropology, has received a 2012 Presidential Faculty Award in support of her ethnographic study of the impact that social class has on the lives of elementary school children in the city.
Curtis will begin observing Sullivan School at Triplett classrooms next week in the preliminary stage of her study, "Reproducing Social Class in the Lives of Children."
She wants to show how the culture of poverty shapes children's self-perceptions and as a result, limits how they perceive their potential and obstructs their views of the opportunities that are available to them and to which they are
In this initial phase, she plans to observe students and teachers in their classrooms once a week, as well as conduct interviews with support staff, the truancy officer and representatives from East Bay Community Action Program and
the Community School. No names or any other identifiable information will be used in any of the reports.
"Given that social class is a determining factor in how well children do in school, which will eventually impact their opportunities in life, a study of this nature is of utmost importance, as it will reveal how class-based aspirations
are reproduced in the lives of children," said Curtis.
"School settings are the site for the transmission of dominant middle class values and norms. I intend to explore how these middle class values and norms compete with the culture of poverty for imagined lives of children."
The Sullivan School at Triplett serves approximately 260 students in grades K-4, 91 percent of which qualify for the free lunch program. This is significant, Curtis said, because it means that these students come from families that meet the federal guidelines for living below the poverty line.
Curtis said Sullivan at Triplett is the most ethnically diverse elementary school on Aquidneck Island: 23 percent of students are white, 28 percent are Hispanic, 43 percent identify as black and the remaining 6 percent identify as Asian or Native American.
Through her research, Curtis hopes to provide the district with a better understanding of the obstacles poverty presents and that must be overcome by both the children and the teachers if the children are to be given the best opportunity ti achieve their potentials.
The results of her initial research, which she hopes to conclude by November, will provide the methodology and overall design of a more in-depth ethnographic study, she said.
"I remain confident that my Salve Regina students, many of whom are education majors and work within the district, will benefit directly from my research," Curtis said. "I draw inspiration from my fieldwork to make the learning experience for Salve students more vibrant and more relevant.
"Additionally, one of our primary departmental goals is to help our students understand the relationship between race, class and social inequalities. My proposed research project does just that."