When parents don’t care enough to feed their kids, can schools ever satisfy the hunger?

One of my favorite local writers responded to a piece I wrote for the Monday AJC on the growing gap in how parents prepare their children for school. (The piece also ran on the blog in longer form.)

Here is what writer Janusz Maciuba had to say in response.

 By Janusz Maciuba

It’s not just lack of academic preparation by the parents that makes for poor student outcomes. It’s the lack of competent parenting in all levels of the student’s life.

downeyart0309In my short time of teaching English to the seventh grade at Stone Mountain Middle School, this was most evident in the lunchroom. Every day there would be several students who had not brought a lunch, had not brought any money to buy lunch, and whose parents or guardians had not bothered to sign them up for free lunch.

Nobody went hungry, though, as the other students at the table gathered up enough food to feed their classmates, showing the purity of adolescent hearts. Some teachers would bring two sandwiches and a lot of teachers had giant loaves of white bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly in their classrooms.

What does it tell the student about his self-worth when the adults in his life cannot provide food, money, or the simple documentation for a free lunch. I am worthless, nobody cares enough to take care of me.

This, of course, does not translate into a student on the honor roll. If I’m worthless, the student thinks, what is the point of school, of reading for pleasure, or of striving toward any goal? All the intentions of education, from turning out productive students to fostering critical thinking skills, cannot overcome this psychic hurt. In a fictional Disney life the student would take charge, find a job, find a mentor, and embark on an autodidactic education. Odds of this happening are pretty much zero for 12-year-olds.

On top of that, television displays lifestyles that to poor students are completely out of reach. Caring Mom, jovial Dad, nice cars, nice shoes and clothes, food so abundant that the characters fuss over insignificant details, like which restaurant to patronize that evening. It’s tough to see, if your living room furniture consists on one hard kitchen chair.

And, if some adult, relative or teacher, has actually voiced the opinion that the student is worthless and won’t amount to anything in life, the dharma of that person’s life becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Things are done to the student not the student does things. Life becomes passive and no choice becomes the path of least resistance, generally in the direction of down. Worthlessness become self-hatred as a student strives for love and attention by behaving badly, which is much easier, at least, in getting attention, than doing something good. If an adult is yelling at you for misbehaving, you have someone who cares, someone who sees you.

In the student culture obtaining an iconic item, one that is endorsed by an athlete or celebrity who the culture reveres, is an instant mark of status. The Air Jordan shoes, a Sean John T-shirt, a rapper’s hairstyle, or a trip to Disney World are held up as tokens of adult love for the lucky student. A number of students spent more time cleaning and ironing these talismans than actually studying.

I suppose this is where I come up with a solution for this sometimes destructive search for affection. I don’t have much. Pull kids out of the classroom and praise them for doing well and encourage them to keep learning. It’s hard to save 150 students but there are students who are so bright it would be criminal not to show them some attention. The payoff can be an educated person who will have a chance to show his or her children the affection and competence they need to see.

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92 comments
thenoticer
thenoticer

This article gives me hope that people are finally starting to get it. Closer to reality than most educational articles I've seen.

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

I posted this on a previous topic, but it seems apropos here:

"I am retired now, but when I was working, I worked in a mostly white Title I elementary school.  Some colleagues and I came up with the dream of a dormitory built next to the school where Monday through Friday the kids who had lousy parents could eat supper, get a bath, have homework supervised and go to bed on time.  We were already feeding them breakfast and lunch, and we had an existing after school program where homework was supervised.  The after school program was not free, but if we gave scholarships to poor kids, they would benefit from the supervised homework, play time and adult interactions.  If we got three or four teachers to take turns each night supervising the dormitory, it would make a world of difference.  The kids could go home on the weekends.  I always thought this was a really good idea to break the cycle of bad parenting and no role models and focus on saving the kids.  I think the movie, Waiting for Superman, had at least one dormitory type school in New York that kept the kids all week.  I know it sounds harsh, but we may have to give up on the parents' generation, the one where the grandparents are raising them anyway, and save the kids." 

catmom-scout
catmom-scout

@4PublicEducation Oh yeah? And who is going to pay for that? I made a decision years ago not to have children. The largest chunk of my property tax bill goes toward schools. I don't like it, but I recognize it's to everyone's benefit to fund the education system. But it stops there. I am NOT willing to pay to house and feed other people's children five days a week in a "dormitory."

thenoticer
thenoticer

@4PublicEducation I wonder who will raise the next generation. This generation of "parents" isn't cut from the same cloth as the older generation taking up the slack now. I don't see them getting their acts together in order to be responsible enough to raise anyone, ever. I like the idea of getting these kids away from their toxic home environments, but the parents should have to pay some restitution. If I ever needed to get my children away from a bad place, I would gladly exchange my labor and time for any unpleasant task in order to secure their futures. Why shouldn't we expect something in return that would pay for these dorms 100%. I am not in favor of spending one extra dime in taxes on other people's irresponsibility. We also need to make it clear that such irresponsible choices will not be tolerated in the next generation.

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

I am a former school administrator.  No elementary school is willing to let a child go hungry, so we let them charge.  The Federal  lunchroom program does not allow charges, so the school front office must pay for them.  The lunch bookkeeper made phone calls, when that didn't work, I made phone calls, but the bottom line is at the end of the year, the office had to write a check to the lunchroom for hundreds of dollars.  Other elementary schools in my county wrote for thousands of dollars.  I think mine was less because I really did spend time trying to recover it.  Remember, these are kids whose families did not quality for free or reduced lunch.  Again, I was vigilant in trying to get them to fill out the forms. There are deadbeat parents in every socioeconomic group.   One family owed almost $300 and took their kids out of school for a week and went to Disneyland.  They never paid the charges.  My county superintendent did not want us to just make a peanut butter sandwich; she didn't want to end up on the front page of the newspaper justifying embarrassing a kid by giving him/her a different lunch.  This money comes out of the school raised monies (ice cream, fund raisers, etc) that we would rather spend on paper and supplies.  It would be very interesting to do a newspaper report on how much each school has to pay their lunchroom program for charges each year.  It is staggering.

catmom-scout
catmom-scout

@4PublicEducation Why not turn these deadbeats over to a collection agency? I guarantee you that's what utility companies, credit card companies, doctor's offices, etc. would do if someone didn't pay them.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Just got this release today and it seemed relevant:

Nearly 85 percent of the children receiving free and reduced-price lunch do not have access to nutritious summer meals and snacks. The Feeding for a Promising Future – No Kid Hungry Campaign, a shared initiative among the Georgia Food Bank Association, national hunger-fighting non-profit Share Our Strength, and the governor’s office, will launch a kickoff event in Clayton County to raise access and awareness for the summer meals program on Thursday, June 18. 

The second of three events, the Clayton County kickoff will take place at the Clayton County Library System’s headquarters branch in Jonesboro, an official Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sponsor. The coalition to battle food insecurity across the state includes these state partners who are speakers at the event: ·

       Amy Jacobs, Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning Commissioner·  

       Richard Woods, Georgia State Schools Superintendent·    

       Danah Craft, Georgia Food Bank Association·    

       Emily Crawford, Arby’s Foundation·  

       Chuck Wiley, Fuel Up To Play 60, Southeast United Dairy Industry Association· 

       Rosie Daugherty, United States Department of Agriculture 

“Too many children in Georgia do not have access to nutritious meals during the summer,” said Danah Craft, executive director, Georgia Food Bank Association. “More than 63 percent of school-aged children in the state rely on free and reduced price lunch during the school year, but less than 15 percent of those children access free meals during the summer. Our goal in hosting these kickoff events is to raise awareness surrounding summer meals, ensuring our children’s bellies are full year-round. What better way to do that than share the wonderful work that’s been done here in Clayton County?” 

The kickoff events will be hosted in key areas of Georgia where at least 50 percent of its children rely on free and reduced-price meals during the school year and will raise awareness surrounding the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO), programs that provide nutritious meals and snacks to children during summer vacation.  SFSP and SSO are federally funded U.S. Department of Agriculture programs administered by Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, and its counterpart, the Georgia Department of Education School Nutrition Programs. The statewide programs partner with schools, local governments and private non-profits to serve free meals and snacks at locations where children gather during the summer, including faith organizations, schools, summer camps and youth centers. 

To find the closest participating site, caregivers can: 

1. Text “FOODGA” to 877877 from a mobile phone, providing them with information on the closest site.

2. Visit www.georgiafoodbankassociation.org for a GPS-enabled map of their closest summer meals site. 

3.  Dial 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) for English-speaking participants or Spanish-speaking participants may dial 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273). 



class80olddog
class80olddog

So- we feed the kids lunch, we feed them breakfast, some get dinner. We now have people wanting to send backpacks for the weekend, and now you want to feed them in the summer? With parents who get food stamps to feed them.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney This is the fourth summer (I think) that my system has done this.  The problem is, as a rural area, few kids can walk to the sites.  And if parents have money to buy gas to drive there, they sure have money to feed their kids.


At some point, we have to hold parents responsible for taking care of the needs of their children.  Since 1973, I have witnessed a dramatic devolution of parental responsibilities onto schools and teachers.

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@class80olddog 

There's truly no end to it. Nor any willingness to see how the welfare state destroys work or saving incentives.

Not even in the face of an ongoing childhood obesity epidemic!

heyteacher
heyteacher

Our graduation coach routinely checks up on students in the morning to make sure they have had breakfast -- a granola bar goes a long way for a kid who hasn't eaten. We also go to great lengths to seek out families that would qualify for reduced/free lunch benefits -- it makes a huge difference for those students and it's an easy fix. We also pass out snacks on major test taking days to make sure all kids have had something to eat -- I do think it's helped the testing environment since we started that practice (I believe the PTA provides the snacks, though).

bu2
bu2

If they repeatedly send them without food and don't apply for free lunch, the teachers not only should, but probably have a legal obligation, to report it to DFACS.


So that's what the school should do.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@bu2 Teachers do not have access to whether a child is on free lunch or not. And I doubt the lunch ladies have a duty to report.  Not sure they are even allowed to disclose.

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

@Wascatlady @bu2 I'm not sure about your district, but there are some districts where that information is available to teachers.  The teachers (in one district I'm familiar with) who have access to that information are expected to use that information to design learning interventions to help those students.  

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

@bu2 Catlady is right: teachers do not have access to whether a child is on free lunch or not.  However, it is a moot point.  DFACS is so underfunded and overburdened, they only have time for serious physical abuse.  The most they would do is discuss the parental obligation with the parent.  Children would never be removed for something like this.  DFACS, the way it currently is, is not the answer.

bu2
bu2

@4PublicEducation @bu2 

My experience is that these agencies are pretty random.  You don't know what they will investigate and what they won't.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

As I expected when I saw the topic, there are quite a lot of bloggers here who 1) assume that "poor hungry kids" is a polite euphemism for "black kids" (although outside Georgia's urban areas, there are a lot of "immigrant kids" and "white rural kids" who fall in that category); 2) dump their vitriol and contempt on these kids' parents and/or government programs designed to help them; 3) express punitive fantasies about what should be done about the awful welfare parent/s who let this happen. (I would really like to know just how "mandatory birth control" would be enforced. And I am reminded of Southern states early last century that decreed forcible sterilizations and lobotomies for some of their poor and/or black citizens who seemed backward or disobedient.)


But what should schools do to help these children on the practical level when they come to school hungry? Here they are.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf



"But what should schools do to help these children on the practical level when they come to school hungry? Here they are. "


You asked, so here's one thing that I would start with- I would harness biometric technology, which is getting more accurate and inexpensive every day, and individualize benefits so that they could not be stolen by no -good "parents". Just thinking aloud here, I would issue a biometric device or card to every kid that could only be used by them, for food. Period. It sure wouldn't work at liquor stores,casinos or anywhere else that kids can't legally go.It would work at school. It would work for individualized portions of milk,juice, vitamins...Whatever. Billing could be automatic and traceable. Make it a jail time felony to steal benefits from minors. Track the childs weight and body fat proportion (Astrowife does this now with a gizmo that I got her for her birthday) and reward good behaviors. But by no means whatsoever give in to the loutish parents that will allow their kids to go hungry!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @OriginalProf 

I like the idea of that biometric card for the kid. If the DeKalb politicians can carry them, why not?  And I am not being ironic when I say that.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Astropig


The child would have to be present to complete the purchase. No kid, no steaks,no cookies, no nuthin' . At least we would know that it reached them at some level.Cashiers would be empowered to void the sale of anything not on the child's formulary.


"But Astropig"..."What if the kid wants a cartload of inappropriate food?" (some may ask)


It's a damn sight better than having a totally empty belly because their parents won't feed them. At least they'll have the vaguely pleasurable feeling of being full for a change.



class80olddog
class80olddog

Mandatory birth control = passive birth control. A doctor's form verifying implantation of an IUD or 5-.year Norplant.

class80olddog
class80olddog

And no, I don't think it is just blacks. I have a neice with two daughters by different men and I don't think she deserves welfare, I thought she said they made her do Norplant

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

How typical, wascatlady.  Say any thing, create any distraction, create any excuse, no matter how off pint, how absurd, or how ridiculous . . . just don't discuss this. It is the greatest problem black America faces, and as noted, that means all of Americans. We are all in this together. We have had a black president who could have used his bully pulpit to shine a light on this and begin looking for solutions, for six years now. It is not discussed. Black politicians, black leaders, black organizations such as the NAACP have large conventions . . . it is never discussed. If the Dem/Libs think that by just ignoring the problem, it will all just go away, or that the old more money and more programs lie is going to fix this problem and  help black Americans going forward, we are all going to pay the price for this enormous catastrophe, now just beginning to emerge, and beginning to be recognized by its victims. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Ficklefan I merely pointed out the irony of your choice of symbols.  Why are you so sensitive? The words you choose tell a lot about you. 


Based on the work I have done for 41 years, I can tell you it is NOT a "black America" problem.  Many of the quite white far right parents I have worked with over these 4 decades display this same pathology.  We've had these white Presidents for over 200 years--why haven't they solved this?

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

After 50 plus years or wrong-headed, misguided, give them anything to get/buy their votes, policies (which have worked well for the Dem/Libs, getting them the always reliable 90% + of the black vote - which they absolutely must have in order to win elections) the chickens are now starting to come home to roost. It is not a pretty sight, and it is going to get much worse - for most black Americans and for ALL Americans. We are all in this  together, and what black America is now facing is going to have a horrible impact on the entire nation. 


All of this recent anger, frustration, violent words, violent actions in the black communities across the nation - because of bad cops?  No. The bad cops are the catalyst, the match to the hidden, explosive ingredients. It is finally starting to dawn on black Americans that they have hit their high water mark in this country, and it is down hill from here. Why? Because of "white racism" - the handy excuse promoted by the Dem/Libs and black leaders for every problem, every ill, every lost opportunity, every misfortune, ever screw up - or is the real reason so awful and so worrisome, and now without remedy that no one even wants to think about it, let alone openly and publicly discuss it? 


And of course, it has been festering for years without mention or acknowledgement. But now, that cute little baby elephant that was born when the Great Society was founded in the 60's and the welfare state took a strong hold -- well, it is all grown up now to be a very large, mean, and angry bull elephant, and it is beginning to take over the entire room. And it is beginning to dawn on black America that, we, with the help of our Dem/Lib enablers, have blown it. 


And what is it that is dawning on black Americans that is so awful? It is the loss of family. The Great Society, the welfare state, has played an enormous roll in destroying the black family in America. And family is the first building block of civilization, and the first building block of human progress. And no race of human beings has, or will progress without a strong family structure in place. 


Parents who don't care enough to feed their kids, and say, let the government feed them?  What a shock! What a total shock!  NOT. We have been heading in this direction for decades. Perhaps it is because those same parents did not have parents who cared, and their parents' parents did not care? Maybe it is something that has been learned and passed down through the generations? And finally, the consequences have come. 


The real sad thing here is the loss of hope. With the disintegrated and still disintegrating black family structure in America, what do you build on? Where do you begin? With single moms, siblings with different fathers, none of whom are to be found, where do you start? There are three going on four generations of this in place now.


The Dem/Libs will continue to preach that more money and more "programs" will fix every thing. That's a lie, and it has always been a lie. When you do things for people that they had to do for themselves, you are stealing something from them that cannot be replaced. But, like what else are they going to say? What else can they say?  They got the votes that they wanted and needed to survive, but now all Americans are going to suffer for it - badly. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Ficklefan Funny that, with all your railing against the Democrats, you chose an ELEPHANT to be your symbol of the anger overtaking our country!  Freudian slip?

popacorn
popacorn

@Wascatlady @Ficklefan Please, teachers, pay attention to reading comprehension! Elephant refers to the 'elephant in the room'. Get that pesky teaching thing down first, then move on to psychoanalysis. 

Greg Palamas
Greg Palamas

Our government subsidizes the lifestyle that produces these children. Mass single-parenthood is the greatest social disaster this country has ever endured. And if you criticize it, leftists usually respond with "well the kids are here, so what can we do other than have the state assume responsibility for them," as if they haven't been encouraging the culture of illegitimacy and welfare dependency for decades, attacking anyone who questioned it (remember Dan Quayle?). The author of this article thinks the most immoral thing these parents have done is to fail to sign their kids up for a free lunch.

DCSD Veteran
DCSD Veteran

Additionally, when the school reaches out to DFCS for help with these neglectful parents, the response from DFCS is often "what do you want us to do about it?"  When the case actually gets "assigned" we typically find out later that the case was closed with little to no intervention/changes.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@DCSD Veteran This is true.  Or we hear, "We can't tell parents how to raise their kids."  I am here to say, yes we can, we should, and we must!

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

I agree there are incapable parents out there, but do we make their kids pay the price? The kids already lost out in the parent lottery. 

Is "tough luck" our only response?

On other hand, schools are overburdened. We turn to schools to address many concerns beyond math and reading. Schools are supposed to teach kids the evil of drugs, the benefits of civic involvement and how to perform CPR. And schools now are being called upon to patrol social media.

Like the author of this piece, I don't have the answers. But I don't think we can look to schools for all the solutions.

GA_and_Education_futile
GA_and_Education_futile

@MaureenDowney 

I don't think that there is an answer.

Back when I used to have lunch duty, there was a kid who didn't have food at least twice a week.  Even though, I have 3 children, I'd put money on the child's lunch account.  These parents were far from being the working poor.  Both parents were in the home, they were college educated, and gainfully employed.


What do you do? 

traderjoe9
traderjoe9

@MaureenDowney  It takes a middle class to raise a child from a dysfunctional home. Isn't that what Hillary said? I know, I'm not being literal but this is what our society has come to. Poverty in and of itself is not a sign of poor character, inept parenting, or despair. Sometimes it is the result of bad luck or circumstance. These are the people who want chances to improve their lot for themselves and their children. The system designed to help often stands in their way. Vouchers would give these parents a fighting chance for their children. These parents can use their $13,000 -$15,000 annual share of taxes spent on schooling a child to find the best educational situation for their child. Parents know best. Give them the responsibility. Let government intervene with parents who misuse or forsake this responsibility.


Years ago, the Dean from UCLA spoke at the Cathedral to St. Phillips in downtown Atlanta. He spoke about the challenges of being an urban university in an area surrounded by people living in poverty, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. He said he was often asked what it would take for them to get their kids in UCLA. He said kids only need to be able to do 3 things, read, write and do math. He said the university could teach kids well prepared in these 3 areas all the content they needed. This man should know. He was quite an exception to an academic career because his life had been spent as a researcher. He holds numerous patents in the technical area. Sadly, I do not remember his name or more specific information about his expertise but I'm sure someone can google it.


The point is, public education is so much nonsense these days. Public education has a broad curriculum mandate but it fails at even the most basic requirement for success later in life, literacy in reading, writing and math. Today, schools struggle, to dress, feed, and maintain discipline for too many students. It's a sham. Let parents have the freedom to pursue excellence in the 3 primary skill areas. Get the government out of a curriculum more designed for political correctness than teaching competence in the basics.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@MaureenDowney  "Ought implies can" - Immanuel Kant


Literally, yes schools can feed them breakfast and lunch.  


Metaphorically, there is no way schools can compensate for indifferent and/or disinterested parenting.  No magic system or set of programs that can provide an institutional substitute for kids' inherent need to feel loved and valued.


The most effective thing that we as a society can do is support the idea that children deserve to be raised by a married mother and father.  Sadly, it shows how far off track our society has gotten that the above statement will be viewed as racist (due to the catastrophically high rate of black children being raised by single parents) and heterosexist (excludes gay marriage).

jezel
jezel

@traderjoe9 @MaureenDowney Great points. Public schools are not teaching rocket science. Truth be known...the basics that should be taught... could be taught to most all students in 2 years or less.....after the student reaches a certain maturity level.

RayMoore
RayMoore

@MaureenDowney This vicious cycle has been pawned on us for about 51 years!  The kids bgrow up and reproduce the same "poor me" mentality.  The government gives them welfare, food stamps, medicaid, etc. and that is not enough?  Where is the money going?  Oh well, we can speculate.  I think the public schools should teach English, history, science, and mathematics only.  Why can't some people be responsible?

popacorn
popacorn

@MaureenDowney Lottery implies chance. Single parent homes result from deliberate decisions by the spawners of such misery. Kids lose because of the child abuse of abandonment, not some random roll of the dice. 

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

When parents don’t care enough to feed their kids, can schools ever satisfy the hunger?


No.

class80olddog
class80olddog

As far as those who suffered discrimination - I would give them the freedom to marry and have a family, the opportunity for education, and the opportunity to work hard and advance themselves. Oh, that's right, we did that.

What did they do- they spurned marriage and personal responsibility, they spit on education, and they refuse jobs that would pay them wages.

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@class80olddog 

But the racial grievance industry provides money and status to argue the opposite.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Oh, and prosecute mothers who send children to school hungry when they have means of supplying food- charge them with child neglect and take the child (and all benefits) away from them.

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@class80olddog 

Offer young women ages 18-25 a fashion charge card with $3,000 pre-loaded in—in exchange for agreeing to be neutered. Within a few decades the permanent underclass will greatly diminish its own numbers voluntarily.

And at less long-term cost to working families.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Why not men? Men are not usually applying for benefits- if so, apply same criteria