A Twitter friend alerts me to this alarming statistic: 51% of public school students were eligible for federal assistance in paying for lunch in the 2012–2013 school year. Here's the Washington Post's map of the percentage of public school kids from low-income households:
South Dakota among the better states, with only 40% of students statewide qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. "Only" 40%. We tie with Alaska, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. Wyoming, North Dakota, and Minnesota are among ten states with lower rates of pre-K–12 students qualifying for lunch assistance.
If you're teaching, and you're finding kids harder to keep focused on their studies than you remember from ten or twenty years ago, this statistic could explain a big chunk of the problem.
“When they first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs: Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe,” said Sonya Romero-Smith, a veteran teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque. Fourteen of her 18 kindergartners are eligible for free lunches.
She helps them clean up with bathroom wipes and toothbrushes, and she stocks a drawer with clean socks, underwear, pants and shoes.
...The job of teacher has expanded to “counselor, therapist, doctor, parent, attorney,” she said [Lyndsey Layton, "Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are in Poverty," Washington Post, 2015.01.16].
Maslow's hierarchy rears its head again: if we haven't met a child's basic needs for food, shelter, and safety, even the best-qualified, best-paid teacher will have a tough time helping that child learn multiplication tables and civics. And even the best-intentioned scholarship and training programs won't be able to build the workforce we need if we don't do more to ensure that kids come to kindergarten feeling fed, safe, and ready to learn the basics.