Breakfast Participation Barely Up, Despite Holding Principals Accountable

by Christopher Paslay

Despite the opinions of child hunger advocacy groups, principals cannot replace parents.   

For child hunger advocates, it’s not enough that the Philadelphia School District offers free breakfast to every single child in every single city school. Principals must do more to coax the students into eating it.

In 2009, former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman enacted a policy that held principals accountable for the number of student breakfasts eaten in each school. Ackerman and child poverty advocates reasoned that including breakfast participation in a principal’s performance rating would significantly increase the number of students taking advantage of these free meals.

Nearly four years later, the percentage of school breakfasts eaten by Philadelphia public school children is up only 10 percent.  In 2009, about 30 percent of students eligible for a free breakfast took advantage, which is compared to about 40 percent today; 52 percent of elementary students, 42 percent of middle schoolers, and 28 percent of high schoolers eat the free school breakfast, according to an analysis released last week by Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

There’s no denying that nutrition has an impact on a child’s ability to learn. I’ve been teaching in Philadelphia for 16 years, and when my students are hungry, they have difficulty focusing on the lesson and staying on task. If I had my way, every child in the district would eat a hearty breakfast, complete with vitamins and dietary supplements to keep their minds sharp and their growing bodies strong and healthy.

But nutrition should not be the responsibility of school principals, despite the fact that groups like Public Citizens for Children and Youth argue otherwise.  Kathy Fisher, a director at PCCY, called for principals to get more involved in school breakfast participation.

Fisher Stated: “To just say, ‘Oh, well, the kids don’t want to participate,’ is not an acceptable answer to us.”

Interestingly, the role of parents doesn’t factor into the equation with groups like PCCY, or with the Philadelphia School District as a whole.  Historically, it seems as if the District has written off parents and the community altogether, deeming them too irresponsible to provide even the most basic guidance and care to their children.

Several years ago, to keep better track of subsidized school meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wanted to change the rules of its Universal Feeding Program, the free breakfast and lunch program offered solely in the Philadelphia School District. The program didn’t require students or their families to fill out applications to get subsidized meals, and USDA officials wanted to start requiring the forms for accounting purposes.

The School District and advocacy groups went berserk over the proposal. They insisted that forcing students to fill out an application for a free meal was too daunting – that parents of impoverished children were too overwhelmed to deal with complicated forms. The USDA ultimately relented.

Philadelphia School District officials are constantly talking about “raising the bar” when it comes to education and making academics more “rigorous.” Meanwhile, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced that the education reform train is leaving the station and everyone must get on board. Why, then, aren’t parents being asked to contribute?

I understand that filling out applications can be intimidating to some people, but why didn’t the District call on its parent ombudsmen back in 2009 to help struggling mothers and fathers learn the skill? So many things in life require an application – a driver’s license, a checking account, a credit card.

But the District didn’t want to be bothered with the inconvenience of working with parents. It’s better to keep students and their families in their comfort zone – quiet, pacified, hopelessly dependent.

Unfortunately, this is the attitude the District has taken when it comes to feeding students free breakfasts. The right thing would be to work with the community and educate citizens on the importance of nutrition. Free meals could be promoted on a grassroots level in Philadelphia’s impoverished neighborhoods, encouraging moms and dads to take part in their children’s health and schooling. Then, maybe, more kids would skip the Pepsi and bag of Doritos at the bus stop in the morning and get to school in time for the free apple juice and bagel with cream cheese.

But, unfortunately, District officials like Ackerman thought it was easier to blame the principals.  They thought wrong; the fact that breakfast participation has only increased a modest 10 percent – 60 percent of students still skip the free school breakfast – is proof.

Children rise to the level of expectations. If we made a true commitment to our students and their families, we could put a real dent in the cycle of poverty.

Ending the Myth that U.S. Spends More on Incarceration than Education

by Christopher Paslay

Have you heard the news?  America spends more money on locking-up its citizens than on educating them.  The NAACP’s recent report, “Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate” makes this assertion.  It examines incarceration and education data in six cities, Philadelphia being one of them (click here to read the report).     

My wife, who does clinical counseling for the Philadelphia Prison System, has made this very claim herself.

Hey Chris, she said the other night at the dinner table, did you know that the state spends more money on prisons than on schools?

The idea that Pennsylvania invests more in its jails than in its classrooms is quite alarming.  The only problem is, of course, is that it’s not true.      

An actual look at state financial data reveals that in 2010, Pennsylvania spent 10 times more on education than on prisons.  Ten times more.  According to PA’s 2010-11 Enacted Budget, the Commonwealth spent $1.6 billion on Corrections (which included General Government Operations, Inmate Medical Care, Inmate Education and Training, and State Correctional Institutions), as opposed to $10.1 billion on Education. 

For the record, in 2010-11, PA spent $4.8 billion on Basic Education Funding; another $1 billion on Special Education; $318 million on Penn State University; $214 Million on community colleges; $164 million on Temple University; $160 million on the University of Pittsburgh; plus another $3.6 billion on 75 other educational programs and interventions, such as state libraries, teacher professional development, adult and family literacy, school food services, Head Start, and youth development centers, just to name a few.  

This is just at the state level.  At the local level in 2010, the city of Philadelphia spent 12 times more on schools than jails—$239 million on prisons and $3.2 billion on education.  This ratio is consistent in most cities and states across America.    

But these actual numbers aren’t being reported.  The Philadelphia Inquirer’s recent story headlined “NAACP blasts U.S. trend for spending more on incarceration than education” opened with the following line: “In his 1984 presidential run, the Rev. Jesse Jackson took issue with the nation’s priorities—spending ever more money on imprisoning people than on educating them.”

Both Jackson and the NAACP might want to open the books and take a better look at city and state budgets before suggesting America is scrimping on education.  I say this, of course, as a dedicated Philadelphia public schoolteacher who knows firsthand the value of education. 

America should continue to invest in education, and it must continue to finance those high poverty urban districts most in need; schools are indeed a beacon light of hope for many communities.

Those communities that take advantage of their schools, that is.  Tragically, about 40 percent of Philadelphia public school students pass up a multitude of programs and learning opportunities by dropping out of school every year.  This is a common trend in urban districts throughout the nation. 

Which further weakens the NAACP’s argument that America doesn’t have its priorities straight.  Our nation, in fact, does care about school.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of many urban communities; the fact that only 30 percent of Philadelphia public schoolchildren eligible for free breakfasts are currently taking advantage of them is a case in point.

Instead of Jackson and the NAACP railing against the system, as they do so often, a bigger effort must be made to make education a priority in urban areas.  Granted, unemployment, institutional racism and a general feeling of hopelessness undoubtedly plague many blighted neighborhoods, but we can still strive to instill in the poor and disenfranchised core values and principles that ultimately transcend skin color and politics; and organizations such as the NAACP should be leading the charge.

Funding for incarceration might be on the rise in the U.S., but what about the deterioration of family values?  The NAACP might want to address the startling statistics reported in the Educational Testing Service’s 2007 policy report titled “The Family: America’s Smallest School,” authored by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley, which found that 44 percent of births to U.S. women under age 30 are out-of-wedlock; that only 35 percent of Black children live with two parents; that 59 percent of Black eight-graders spend at least four hours watching television a day; and that 20 percent of American schoolchildren misses three or more school days a month.

The reality is, education can’t work if communities don’t invest their own time and take advantage of interventions.  While America should continue to fund public schools, our country must take an honest look at its own attitude toward education, and develop a national resolve to better generate a culture of learning.

Breakfast shouldn’t be on the principals



“For Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, it’s not enough that the Philadelphia School District offers free breakfast to every single child in every single city school. Now, principals must coax the students into eating it.


Under a new district policy, principals will be held accountable for the number of student breakfasts eaten in each school. District officials reason that including breakfast participation in a principal’s performance rating will increase the number of students taking advantage of these free meals.


This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Breakfast shouldn’t be on the principals”.  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.


Thanks for reading.


–Christopher Paslay


Chalk and Talk celebrates 100th post




 by Christopher Paslay


 Today’s blog post is a special one—it’s the 100th on Chalk and Talk since this site was launched on September 28th, 2008.


In just under 11 months on the internet, this site has received 20,650 views.  The exposure and reach of this blog is steadily growing.  In June, Chalk and Talk generated 2,995 views—an average of 100 per day for the month.  July was almost as busy: 2,811 for the month, an average of 91 per day.


On a grand scale, these numbers are small potatoes, but on a local level they are significant.  The Philadelphia Pubic School Notebook, a publication that’s been covering education in Philadelphia for 15 years and was recently awarded a $200,000 grant by the Knight Foundation, launched a new website in February. 


According to the paper’s editor, Paul Socolar, the site gets about 400 visitors a day.  And that’s with a large staff of professionals generating material—photographers, editors, reporters and bloggers. 


Chalk and Talk’s staff is a bit smaller.  The entire operation is basically run by Yours Truly.


That’s not to say Chalk and Talk doesn’t generate dialogue and spark reaction, because it most certainly does.  On September 29th, 2008, I posted a commentary on this blog that I had originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled How about the teachers?  It suggested the Philadelphia School District was treating its educators less than professional, and called for a fair contract with them. 


Superintendent Arlene Ackerman responded in a letter to the Inquirer headlined Taking Exception, explaining that the School Reform Commission was working hard to rectify the problems facing the District, and that there were “no easy answers”.


Shortly thereafter, I received a personal letter from Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President, Jerry Jordan.  Mr. Jordan thanked me for my article, and for bringing to light the concerns of Philadelphia public school teachers, whose voices are often ignored or marginalized in the media as a whole (on a side note, the PFT has revamped its website, and now includes Jerry’s Blog.  Click here to visit).


Chalk and Talk has also gotten feedback from Paul Socolar, editor of the Notebook.  Those that follow my “Eye on the Notebook” series are familiar with the dialogue here (to read the exchange, click on Eye on The Notebook under “Categories” to the right).  Although some feathers were ultimately ruffled, I believe my month-long encounter with Paul was positive.  He taught me some things about journalism, and I enlightened him on the realities of teaching in a Philadelphia public school classroom, and made him more aware of the limited scope of his newspaper, and the fact that it isn’t always teacher friendly. 


I’ve received comments from the Philadelphia Student Union when I suggested that they needed to do more to hold their peers accountable for bad behavior; last fall I got a comment from Jonathan Stein, general counsel of Community Legal Services, when I challenged his notion that the Universal Feeding program should be application free.


There’s been feedback from other bloggers, such as Samuel Reed of the Notebook and Ken DeRosa of D-Ed Reckoning; from parents and community groups, most notably Moving Creations, a non-profit arts mentoring program working with area youth; and of course, there’s been hundreds of replies from Philadelphia public school teachers, the dedicated men and women who work miracles with our city’s children on a day-to-day basis (thank you Susan Cohen Smith for your witty commentaries). 


Some days I wonder if running this blog is worth the effort.  When it comes to the public’s perception of education in America, the glass is always half empty.  We are constantly being bombarded with words like broken and failing.  More than ever, teachers and schools are being made the scapegoat for just about everything, and the other significant pieces of the education equation—such as parents, educational policy writers, politicians, professors, and society as a whole—are consistently ignored.


There is a lot of negative energy wrapped up in the politics of education.  I make a conscious effort not to get pulled too far down into this muck, but some days, after I crank-off a 700 word article rebutting some point made by some know-it-all who’s never taught a day in a classroom, I find myself becoming cynical.  I apologize for this.  My intent is not to sling mud or call names. 


I write because I want to make things better, because I want the public to see a more accurate version of the objective truth, if there is such a thing. 


I hope the next 100 posts on this blog are just as meaningful and engaging.  I hope they continue to inform as well as entertain, and provide readers with new insights.    


Thanks to all of you who have contributed or commented.  Chalk and Talk is an open forum for all points of view on education.  Feel free to email the address above, or to post your thoughts on any of the articles directly on the comment board.


Inquirer editorial disparages principals, twists facts about breakfast program





by Christopher Paslay


In their recent editorial, School Breakfast Program, the Inquirer uses clever wording to once again suggest that Philadelphia public schools are failing to serve students free breakfast. 


Philadelphia principals are left to develop feeding programs as they see fit,” the Inquirer writes.  “Many are unwilling to restructure the school day to serve breakfast.”


This statement is inaccurate and intentionally misleading.  Instead of saying, Many principals are unwilling to forfeit instructional time and serve breakfast in class, the Inquirer insinuates that principals are not serving breakfast at all, which clearly isn’t the case; the Philadelphia School District offers free breakfast to every single child in every single school. 


The typical school breakfast in Philadelphia is served in the cafeteria in the morning, about 20-30 minutes before the instructional day begins.  The breakfast is FREE, and ALL students are eligible.


Of course, not all students are taking advantage of this free breakfast.  One problem is that breakfast—and nutrition in general—is not a priority in too many homes in the city.  Parents skip breakfast and so do their children. 


In addition, many students come to school late and miss the free breakfast, opting instead to drink sodas and eat bags of potato chips as they mingle on the corner with friends.


But the Inquirer fails to acknowledge this.  In fact, they go on to use a survey conducted during PSSA testing to further mislead readers:


“A Public Citizens for Children and Youth survey of 35 Philadelphia elementary schools found that 63 percent [of principals] changed their policy to make sure kids ate breakfast during test week,” the Inquirer states.  “Besides measuring academic progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the test results are used to judge principals’ performance. So, during test week, some principals took extra steps to provide breakfast at their schools.”


The key phrase here is took extra steps to provide breakfast at their schools. 


This sentence clearly suggests that principals are negligent when it comes to providing free breakfast to students, and that during PSSA test week, they “changed their policy” and agreed to feed their hungry children. 


This of course is not true; again, the district serves free breakfast to every child in every school. 


A more accurate way to convey the information would have been, So, during test week, some principals took extra steps to provide breakfast in class instead of simply offering it free of charge before school.


Later in their editorial, in a lame attempt to fill in the facts, the Inquirer acknowledges that the district does indeed provide a free breakfast to every child, and that many students simply aren’t taking advantage of the program.


“Every city school serves breakfast, and all students are eligible for the meal, regardless of income,” the Inquirer admits.  “Yet, only about 51,000 of the 165,000 district students take advantage.”


And who does the Inquirer blame for this?  Irresponsible parents?  The students themselves?  Of course not.  That would go against the newspaper’s politics.  The Inquirer absolves mothers and fathers of all blame and allows them to plead ignorance: Parents don’t take advantage of the breakfast program because they don’t know it exists.


The Inquirer instead blames principals.  It’s not enough that school leaders offer a free breakfast to every single child in their school.  Principals must also COAX them into eating it as well.  In fact, the Inquirer even recommends that schools chief Arlene Ackerman give principals their “marching orders” and hold them accountable when meals go uneaten. 


The arrogance of this is maddening.  If the Inquirer is so keen on feeding hungry children, why don’t they donate free advertising space in their newspaper to announce the district’s breakfast program to all the city’s “uninformed” parents?    


Or better still, why not run a public service message about the importance of nutrition, and encourage parents to get their children out of bed early enough to eat the healthy breakfast waiting for them free of charge in the school cafeteria?    


Classrooms are for learning, not eating.  Instructional time is limited.  Students and their families must learn to follow the most basic of routines, and acquire the life skills and discipline necessary to function in our highly structured 21st century society.      


Schools should not be held responsible for students refusing free meals

by Christopher Paslay


For antipoverty advocates, it’s not enough that the Philadelphia School District offers free breakfast to every single child in every single school. 


They must also COAX the students into eating it as well. 


Call me old fashioned, but I always thought that HUNGER sparked the desire to eat.  According to Abraham Maslow, motivation is driven by the existence of unsatisfied needs. 


Not in Philadelphia.  According to a story in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Phila. School breakfasts lure few, the district is failing its students. 


Inquirer Staff Writer Alfred Lubrano uses an interesting choice of words in the first sentence of his lead:


Just one in three low-income students eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts got those meals in Philadelphia schools during the 2006-07 school year, according to a national report released yesterday.


The curious part is the word GOT, which connotes the idea that eligible students are lining-up in Philadelphia public schools to receive their free meals but through some fault of the district, they’re not receiving them.


This clearly isn’t the case.  According to School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities, School Year 2006-2007, the very report Lubrano cites in his article, the Philadelphia School District reported serving breakfast in every school in the district.      


A more accurate intro would read as follows:


 Just one in three low-income students eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts ACCEPTED those meals in Philadelphia schools during the 2006-07 school year, according to a national report released yesterday.


This would shift the responsibility away from teachers and schools and place it where it belongs: On the parents and the students themselves. 


The Inquirer article goes on to quote Jonathan Stein of Community Legal Services, an antipoverty advocate.        


“The real problem with breakfast has been the resistance at the local school level,” Stein told the Inquirer. “Many principals and staff have not been gung-ho behind breakfast. And this is a laissez-faire district where the principals essentially call the shots.”


Again, the wording is misleading.  Principals HAVE offered free breakfast in schools around the district, but not in the way people like Stein find acceptable. 


The typical school breakfast in Philadelphia is served in the cafeteria in the morning, about 20-30 minutes before the instructional day begins.  The breakfast is FREE, and ALL students are eligible.


Then why are only one in three low-income students getting breakfast?  Because many kids come to school late, opting to smoke a cigarette at the bus stop or listen to their iPod on the corner.  Others eat Dortios and Pepsi for breakfast, while some stop off at Dunkin Donuts for a nice cup of joe.  Others fuel up on energy drinks, such as Red Bull or Monster.   


And some just flat out aren’t hungry. 


So who’s at fault here?  The students themselves?  The parents who fail to instill in their children the importance of eating a healthy breakfast?


Of course not.  It’s the school’s fault.  It’s not enough to just offer meals completely free of charge, but now people like Jonathan Stein are insisting principals and teachers get “gung-ho” about breakfast and stop their “resistance” to such meals. 


Resistance?  Are you kidding me?


Stein wants all public schools in Philadelphia to serve breakfast in class.  So does Kathy Fisher, welfare and public benefits coordinator for Public Citizens for Children and Youth of Philadelphia. 


“They should make it policy in Philadelphia to have in-class breakfast feeding,” Fisher told the Inquirer. “It seems the model works well in other places.”


So let me get this straight.  In 2006-07, the Philadelphia School District made breakfast available to all kids in all schools, 75% of which got them for free or at a reduced rate.  Then in September of 2008-09, the district pulled out all the stops and decided to offer free meals to all students in all schools.


But this still isn’t good enough.  Now antipoverty advocates want meals served in-class. 


I see.  Milk and juice and syrup and French toast and bagels and cream cheese.  Outside the lunchroom.  At students’ desks.  Where their books are.  And papers.  And pencils.  And this is supposed to be done when?  In place of which part of the mandated curriculum? 


Wayne Grasela, senior vice president of food services for the district, even suggested holding principals accountable for students taking part in the free meals.  According to the Inquirer, Grasela “is recommending to the district that the performance of principals in breakfast service be included in their job evaluations.”


Hmm, nice touch.  While we’re at it, why not hold the teachers accountable as well.  Dock their pay $50 a shot for every scrambled-egg platter that isn’t finished by the kids.


Apparently, underprivileged children and their parents are too helpless and feeble-minded to accomplish the most basic of organizational tasks (such as getting to school in time for a free meal).  It’s just this kind of insulting, condescending mentality that prevents too many capable families in Philadelphia from becoming independent and taking back control of their lives. 


And it’s just this kind of twisted blame-game that keeps too many quality educators out of Philadelphia’s public school system.       



Thanksgiving is a Time to Feel Grateful, Not Guilty

by Christopher Paslay


As my wife and I prepared for today’s Thanksgiving dinner earlier this morning (it’s at our house for the first time this year), all at once it hit me how lucky we are, how fortunate we are to have our health and a great house and a caring family to share the holidays with. 


Now I’m not a romantic (I’m more of a realist like Ben Franklin), and I’m sure as heck not a bleeding heart save-the-world type. 


But I must say I was struck with a heightened feeling of happiness and contentment this morning.  These feelings in fact were so strong I was jarred out of my routine and forced to acknowledge them.  Right there in the kitchen, as I was putting the case of Red Stripe into the vegetable drawer, I thought to myself, Man, I am lucky.      


Almost immediately I thought of those who are not as lucky.  For a split second I felt a pang of guilt, felt a moment of embarrassment over all the whining I do on this blog, felt foolish over all the times I bellyache over educational policy.  It was then that I thought, I’m too hard on the “have-nots”.  I need more tolerance, more compassion. 


In particular, I thought about the blog I’d written regarding the Universal Feeding Program (If You Can’t Fill Out a Meal Form, You Don’t Deserve Free Eats), and how I agreed with the USDA’s stance on making poor families fill out applications to get free meals. 


My philosophy was simple:  Struggling families in Philadelphia need tough love.  We must help them grow stronger by holding them accountable for a minimum level of tasks.  If filling out a free meal form is just too daunting . . . we as teachers and community leaders must work closer with our struggling neighbors to teach them the basic life skills needed to survive.  The last thing we should do is reinforce their bad habits by refusing to hold them accountable for their self-destructive behavior.”


On this day of giving thanks, on this day of counting our blessings and acknowledging all of our good fortune, I felt a moment of embarrassment for writing these words.  Suddenly, the Philadelphia School District’s mantra of unconditional accommodation for our city’s have-nots seemed to make perfect sense.  Those who are strong and have their lives in order should give to those who do not.  We should not judge the less fortunate, we should just give. 


But then something occurred to me, even on this happy day.  We should do more than give—do more than simply accommodate—we should empower.   This is when I thought: Why unconditionally donate water when you can teach the needy how to build a well?  Why stop at giving corn when you can teach the less fortunate how to plant crops? 


I know what critics of this philosophy will say.  It’s too daunting.  The poor are overwhelmed.  They can’t do it.  People are starving, and this is no time to teach a lesson. 


But I don’t think this way; this is why my guilt ultimately subsided.    


Today is Thanksgiving, and I thank God and the universe for all He has given me.  The Red Stripe is in the fridge and I am ready to enjoy the beauty of the day.  I am happy.  I am grateful.  But I am not guilty.


I pray for the less fortunate and hope one day we can reach them.  My goal is to empower, not enable.    


There is a big difference.          


Happy Thanksgiving to Philadelphia and the rest of America.  Let’s eat and drink and cross our fingers that the Eagles don’t lay a giant turkey. 




If You Can’t Fill Out a Meal Form, You Don’t Deserve Free Eats

by Christopher Paslay


I often joke with my friends that the Republican party helps rich people stay rich, and that the Democrat party helps poor people stay poor.  The slogans for change in the recent presidential race are very ironic: Both candidates are fighting for change to allow voters in their party to stay the same and be more comfortable doing it.


Comfort is to change what water is to a campfire.  Real change is the antithesis of complacency.  It’s about motivation—about that fire that gets lit inside your stomach and energizes you to overcome obstacles.


This is why I agree with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to change the rules of its Universal Feeding Program, a free breakfast and lunch program offered solely in the Philadelphia School District.  Currently, the program doesn’t require students or their families to fill out an application form to get access to free meals. 


However, to better monitor the program, the USDA is requiring all children eligible for free or reduced meals to fill out an application starting in the 2010 school year. 


School district officials, as well as Philadelphia Community Legal Services, who helped conceive Universal Feeding along with Temple University, were upset to hear about the program’s rule change.  Jonathan Stein, general counsel of Community Legal Services, was particularly displeased. 


The Inquirer paraphrased Stein’s disappointment: Simple as it sounds, the process of having poor children bring home lunch forms to fill out is a daunting task, said Stein. . . . Children forget, and poor parents already beset by outsized difficulties are unwilling or unable to deal with the forms.  And so they languish unsigned.  And children miss out on meals.


Loose translation: Filling out a form for a free meal is just too difficult. 


This is just another example of how school district officials and community leaders fail to hold students and their parents accountable for even the most menial of tasks.  Despite the misleading editorial in the Inquirer, Free School Meals, the USDA is not cutting a free meal program.  They are simply trying to better monitor and organize it by requiring students and their parents to fill out a simple form.      


But the buck never stops with the students or their parents.  We as teachers in the district are taught the mantra, No excuses! Let’s raise the bar!  Yet when you look closely at the core mentality of many of our communities, the whole idea of high expectations is a hypocrisy.      


Nothing in life is free.  Of course there is a stigma attached to filling out a free meal form.  It’s the stigma that lights that fire in the student’s belly that says, Man, it’s embarrassing to be poor.  Maybe I should take school seriously and make something of myself.


Struggling families in Philadelphia need tough love.  We must help them grow stronger by holding them accountable for a minimum level of tasks.  If filling out a free meal form is just too daunting, as Jonathan Stein says, we as teachers and community leaders must work closer with our struggling neighbors to teach them the basic life skills needed to survive.  The last thing we should do is reinforce their bad habits by refusing to hold them accountable for their self-destructive behavior.


The USDA’s rule change on free meals is a step in the right direction.  Stigma and hunger pangs just might be the wake-up call necessary to get struggling families on their feet and win back control of their lives.