Hungry Children Do Not Learn: Food Is Essential to Education
Throughout my campaign I have repeated that student well-being is of great concern to me. And, if elected to the Board of Education (BOE), I will work toward having our children’s needs met. Children must have both their physical and emotional needs met in order to learn and make academic progress. One of the most fundamental physical needs for all humans is nourishment. No child can be expected to learn if they are hungry. Unfortunately, child hunger has continued to be an issue throughout Anne Arundel County for a very long time — particularly in District 6. It has been magnified through the Covid-19 crisis as AACPS had to quickly set up meal delivery sites to feed children who would no longer be at school to receive their food. Many students, who are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals (FARM), receive up to three meals a day at school. The role of the school system is essential in feeding a large portion of students each day. Food and the ability to learn are inextricably entwined. While the FARM program feeds many students, there are many others who do not qualify for assistance according to federal calculations that determine qualifications based on the poverty level. These students’ working parents earn enough to cover basic living expenses with little left over to purchase food. This group of children have often been the victims of the term “lunch shaming.” When the lunch debts of these students are not paid, the AACPS system serves them cold cheese sandwiches – a block of cheese between two pieces of bread taken from a freezer — and maybe a piece of fruit. Students who have experienced lunch shaming tell heartbreaking stories of their humiliation when lunching in the cafeteria with a marker of poverty before them. This should not happen in our county. At Annapolis High School, where my daughter attends and I serve as vice president of the PTSA, a group of parents set up a food pantry to help solve the hunger problem. Although it is an ad hoc solution, there are students, families, and even staff who benefit. AACPS needs policies that will address the food issue system-wide. As a start, I propose the following:
When there is unpaid school lunch debt, the school system should work out the problem with parents in whatever way possible. Students must continue to receive their meals and must not be punished for their parents’ inability to pay. The Board of Education should vote immediately to approve AACPS’ participation in the federal Community Eligibility Program. This program provides free meals to all children in a high-poverty area whether or not any individual in that area falls below the federal poverty threshold. The program started in 2010, and in 2017 the Maryland legislature voted overwhelmingly to re-authorize it. Yet Anne Arundel County BOE voted to not participate.