River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 18 2011

No Such Thing As a Free Lunch?

“Mr. Britt, why am I the only one who has to pay to eat lunch? I don’t have a dollar today, so I guess I’ll go hungry…”

A common proxy of poverty in our nation’s public schools is the percentage of students receiving “free or reduced lunch” through the federal government.  Since moving to the Mississippi Delta, I always take note of the cited poverty levels of schools featured in New York Times articles: 35%, 50%, 65%; rarely do these measures ever approach the 90%+ found in schools across the Delta.

This past week, a student asked me why she was the only person who had to pay for lunch (teachers pay $3/day). She didn’t think it was fair that she had to pay due to her father having a regular job; honestly, I think I agree with her. In schools with nearly 100% of its students (typically high-minority) participating in the free lunch program, it would make sense to simply have all students receive free lunch rather than having a handful who pay. Under the current system, a weird paradox is created where kids may feel penalized for having a parent with a steady source of income. This seems counter-intuitive and I’m not sure we want to send this message to kids because they are too young to understand fully the social dynamics of the free lunch program. I mean, I have a college degree in Sociology and still can’t completely comprehend the socio-economic forces of our society.

Looking at our current political situation, neither do our policymakers, but I digress….

In a more positive side note, I’m about to stop eating our school’s lunches. I started eating them last year after losing 15 pounds in the first three months of teaching, but let’s just say they’ve outlived their purpose of regaining the bulk, and then some. Our cafeteria workers are wonderful, but I don’t play enough basketball for all that food!

4 Responses

  1. G

    Re: the free lunch issue – I agree with you 100%.

  2. That’s really rough. . . I wonder if you could coordinate a field trip exchange with a wealthier school district to raise awareness, and maybe get some donations! PTOs and schools do fundraisers all the time for faraway places. If they saw how close to home the poverty was, perhaps they’d be willing to help you out. Best wishes with all this.

    • I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of support from families and communities outside of the region. For that I am extremely thankful. I will look into whether districts closer by are willing to donate as well. Thanks for the advice!

  3. Felicia

    I recently found out through a friend in the mccomb school district that because they are title I schools all they elementary school students receive free lunch. People have to realize that school may be the only meal some kids get.

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