Public Health Immersion students

Public Health Summer Immersion: Poverty Simulation Leads to Hands-on Learning

August 16, 2016


  • It is day two of our Public Health Summer Immersion program, which is designed to give high school students a front row seat to the exciting field of public health.

    Led by Dr. Keri Griffin, PhD, MPH, MPA, MCHES, the program is an intensive, immersive experienced, filled with laboratory time, field trips, breakout sessions, and speakers.

    During today’s event, students experienced a three-hour poverty simulation, designed to help them understand the challenges faced by those who are experiencing poverty.

    The high school students were separated into teams, and assigned a persona, as well as specific challenges and activities; all based on the real life experiences of those living in poverty. Students were equipped with vouchers, nutrition alerts, housing assignments, and some spending money, and were led through a series of tasks to simulate real-life experiences.

    Faculty and staff manned tables and represented institutions and stores, including pawn shops, payday advance loans, bank/mortgage, utilities, employers, and benefits centers.

    Just like in real life, there was no way to cut corners in the simulation. When students couldn’t come up with money for their mortgage, they were “evicted”.

    Because the simulation dealt with real-world experiences, students were provided the opportunity to take a break or talk about the experience at any time.

    For rising high school seniors Fiona Devine, Stefany Muniz, Isabelle Kapoian, and Faryal Amin, the simulation was a hands-on and challenging experience.

    “At first, we struggled a lot to organize everything,” said Stefanie Muniz, who attends Danbury High School.

    Their team was based around a single-parent household, and money became an issue early in the simulation.

    “We definitely weren’t in a good starting situation in the poverty simulation, because we were left with only ten dollars from the father who had left, and our mother couldn’t work,” said Faryal Amin, who attends Watertown High School.

    Isabelle Kapoian, who attends Bedford High School, was assigned the single mother persona, and all four of the students immediately identified the struggles a single mother faced.

    “What was interesting about the simulation was that we were given all different ages – and I was made a single mother. I felt like I had to protect my children,” said Isabelle Kapoian. “It was definitely a juggling act.”

    All four of the students agreed that leaving the children alone led to trouble in the simulation – including an experience in juvenile detention, which they encountered early in the simulation. For the students, it was an opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced by single mothers who do not have access to quality childcare.

    “It is important to be more understanding of the hard choices that someone has to make – like leaving your children alone in order to provide,” said Isabelle Kapoian.

    “When a mother leaves her child behind, [society is] against them,” agreed Faryal Amin. “But if we were in that situation, we wouldn’t know what to do. It helps to understand what they are dealing with.”

    For the students, it was also surprising how much luck came into the equation. Many of the activities in the simulation were based on chance or a lottery – much like in real life.

    “We had better luck than most,” said Fiona Devine, who attends Coyle and Cassidy High School in Taunton, MA. “Things happened to go well for us. We got lucky with our food supply and foster care. It made me realize that you can’t take anything for granted.”

    The students agreed that the poverty simulation was clear and valuable experience, and that all students would benefit from learning about the issues raised through the simulation.

    “I think poverty simulations should be a state-wide thing,” said Isabelle Kapoian. “Everyone should experience an exercise like this.”

    Specially designed for high school students, the Public Health Summer Immersion program at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) is designed to give high school students a front-row seat to the exciting field of public health.