I’m Failing School. I Can’t Hear my Teacher Over my Growling Stomach.
This post is in no way affiliated with my employer. The following is a personal opinion regarding a national issue faced by many school districts. Please do not leave any comments regarding a particular school.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is now requiring schools to develop policies regarding school meal charges. Schools are developing these policies at their discretion. While some policies allow for a few meal charges to be made and subsequently provide an alternate meal to a student who has met the meal charge limit, other schools do not allow any charges, and/or may not provide an alternate meal.
One out of five children in America struggle with hunger. How many of these students arrive to school hungry? In the past, students have been able to rely on schools to provide them with a meal. Oftentimes school is the only place that a child isn’t hungry. With the large school meal debt continuing to rise, this will no longer be an option for some children.
Isn’t there a program to assist parents in paying for their child’s school meals? Yes.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) under the USDA and in association with FNS offers free and reduced breakfast and lunch to families that meet a specified income. However, this program is not utilized to it’s potential. Many parents who qualify for assistance refuse to utilize this program for many reasons. For some parents it is due to pride. For others, they do not want to share their personal information with the school or federal government. In turn, their child acquires a large school meal debt due to the parent’s inability to pay and refusal to accept assistance. This will no longer slide with new school policies forced by the USDA. They will simply have to go without a meal or in some fortunate cases be provided with a lesser alternative meal.
These are not the only parents causing the school meal debt to continue to rise to such a high amount. Some parents will stand in front of you with their name brand clothes, fresh manicure, and iPhone7 and tell you how they “can’t afford” to pay for their child’s meals. Other parents will tell you that they pay taxes towards public education so meals in school should be free for all students. Then there are the parents who refuse to pay their child’s school meal debt simply because they told their child to eat breakfast at home and to take a lunch to school and the school shouldn’t have allowed their child to charge.
So, what will be the results of these new mandated school meal policies? Child hunger is obviously the first. How is this going to play out on a daily basis in school? First grader Bobby slides his hot tray down the lunch line to the woman who keeps track of everything. “Sorry, Bobby. You’ve already charged five times this year so you can’t have this meal.” Since this meal has already been served, it is thrown in the trash, as it cannot be served to another student. Little Bobby tells the woman that he hasn’t eaten since dinner last night. “Sorry, Bobby. We don’t have an alternative meal for you.” Now what? Some students will offer to share their meal with Bobby. Bobby may accept the food as he is pretty hungry but the social impact could be crippling if this continues throughout the year. Never mind the possibility that “the school allowed Bobby to consume someone else’s food which contained Red Dye # 4 (or whatever it is) and he went into a food induced destructive rampage causing him to get sent to the principal’s office,” – believe it or not.
Secondly, we are going to see the bullying statistics rise.
Socio-economic status already drives our world. Generally this plays a large part in why students are bullied in school. Depriving our students of meals, singling them out as the hungry kid (no matter the reason) will only aid in the steady increase in bullying cases each school year.
The last effect this will have is on the teachers. “The national average starting teacher salary is $36,141, while the average teacher salary in America (non-starting) is $56,383.” (“Teacher Salaries in America”) “On average, most (teachers) spent nearly $500 last year, and one in 10 spent $1,000 or more.” (“Here’s How Much Your Kid’s Teacher Is Shelling Out for School Supplies”)
I teach in Nevada. A portion of our yearly teacher evaluation is based on student academic growth within the classroom as well as a small portion based on student academic growth school wide.
A hungry student can’t learn. So in addition to using their own money to provide students with the needed supplies to learn, teachers will now be using their own money to keep their students’ bellies full. Many teachers already begin their day by fixing Joey’s hair, washing Tommy’s face, and calming David down who doesn’t understand why the police took his daddy away last night. Now we will also be responsible for feeding our students so that they can learn.
While I do not know the answer to this growing problem, I do know that our children should not suffer physically, emotionally, and academically because their parent refuses to make sure their child is fed. Our nation is already facing a massive teacher shortage due to low wages, growing responsibilities and costs, and a lack of respect. These school meal policies will now be added to the lists of reasons why we are lacking high quality teachers.
While the effect on teachers is definitely worth talking about, the more important issue is student hunger. Hungry students can’t learn. Uneducated adults can’t feed themselves. We are creating a vicious cycle. One our nation may not be able to recover from.
September is No Kid Hungry month. No Kid Hungry is campaigning to raise awareness and has many options for assisting in ending child hunger.
Please share this post to help raise awareness of the tragic epidemic of public school student hunger.