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Donna Beegle      

President of Communication Across Barriers Inc. & Author of "See Poverty, Be The Difference"

Donna Beegle grew up in generational migrant-labor poverty and left school at 15 to get married and start a family. At 25, she found herself with two children, no husband, little education, and few marketable job skills. Within 10 short years, she got her GED and advanced through to a doctoral degree in educational leadership. All these experiences provide Dr. Beegle with an authentic voice with which to speak, write, and train across the nation to break the iron cage of poverty.

As president of Communication Across Barriers, a consulting firm dedicated to building poverty-informed communities that are armed with tools to break barriers, she works directly with children and adults currently in poverty, as well as professionals who want to make a difference for those living in poverty. Dr. Beegle is also the founder of the Opportunity Community movement, which provides the foundation for a contemporary war on poverty.

Her inspiring story and work have been featured on CNN and PBS and in publications around the nation. Dr. Beegle has authored four books and training curriculum sets, including See Poverty...Be the Difference, An Action Approach for Educating Students in Poverty, Breaking Poverty Barriers to Equal Justice, and If Not Me, Then Who? Empowering Our Neighbors. Dr. Beegle has the distinction of being selected as speaker of the year for the New Mexico Bar Foundation and chosen as a Woodrow Wilson Princeton Fellow. In addition, she has had two classrooms in the Portland State University School of Social Work named in her honor.

Speech Topics


Building your Resource Backpack: A Proven Model for Breaking Poverty Barriers to Education

Schools cannot fight the evil villain “Poverty” alone. We have to work together in ways we have never worked before to build a poverty-informed community that aligns with a schools efforts to break poverty barriers. In this session, Dr. Beegle will share case studies of communities and schools who have succeeded in doing community-wide efforts to remove any poverty barrier that can be removed. This session provides a foundation for moving from “It’s not my job” to “If not me, then who” approach to breaking barriers. Dr. Beegle shares tools that assist in working more effectively with community partners to remove any poverty barrier that can be removed.

Teaching and Learning Tools that Work for People Who Live in the Crisis of Poverty

The impacts of poverty on our students does not stop at the school door. Students are bombarded daily with the worries of daily life—such as having no place to live, no food to eat, cars being towed, lights being shut out, and so many other injuries of poverty. For students who come from poverty, only 11 percent leave college with a degree or certificate. For students who come out of the foster care system, only three percent leave with a degree or certificate. In this interactive session, Dr. Donna M. Beegle—who was born into generational, migrant labor poverty—will provide insights into what faculty, staff, and leaders can do to improve educational outcomes for all students. She assists participants with effective teaching and learning strategies that help make the learning more purposeful and meaningful to students facing poverty. During this session, she builds a foundation for the systemic changes needed to ensure that students from poverty succeed.

Communicating and Relating More Effectively Across Poverty Barriers

Research has shown that people who live in the crisis of poverty, much like Donna, enter school with a much different exposure to vocabulary and experiences than people from middle-class. In this session, Dr. Beegle uses activities and breakouts to engage leaders and faculty in understanding their own communication and relationship styles and how the messages sent in an organization in writing or verbally are often not the messages received. Participants gain insights into differences in communicating and relating more effectively across social class barriers. This session explores the impact of life experiences on communication styles and provides a framework for improving an organizations communication and relationships with people who live in the war zone of poverty.

In addition to the foundational training session, Dr. Beegle has the following training sessions that she can add to your professional development, or she can weave many of the strategies from these sessions into the other foundational training sessions.

Breaking the Iron Cage of Poverty for Leaders

Leaders set the tone for how an organizations culture responds to the impacts of poverty and racism. Most information on poverty comes from the media, which predominately provides stories that perpetuate myths and stereotypes. In this interactive segment, Dr. Beegle will provide leaders and faculty with a poverty knowledge base necessary for creating a more inclusive, responsive environment for students living in the crisis of poverty. Participants will gain tools for understanding how life looks and feels from the perspectives of people impacted by the many different types of poverty and what barriers we need to remove to increase success. Dr. Beegle will weave her story of dropping out of school at 15 to marry, then obtaining her GED at Mt. Hood Community College at 26 and—10 years later—her doctorate in educational leadership. She will provide participants with concrete examples of how other organizations are using her poverty-informed practices to change the statistic of people living in poverty.

Poverty-Informed Training

One of the best places to start is by providing poverty-informed training to your leaders, faculty, and staff to build the internal capacity of your organization. With these poverty-informed training sessions, participants will be given a foundational understanding of poverty, common definition of poverty, the many different lived experiences, and how each impacts a person living in poverty success along with practical and actionable items that improve outcomes. We recommend the poverty-informed training sessions start with the following two training sessions which build the foundation for creating equity and a poverty-informed campus.

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