When my children were younger, I worked at a summer camp.Â They got to go for free and I worked as the Arts and Crafts counselor.Â I actually really enjoyed the work and so many happy memories are founded from this time at the camp, participating and seeing my daughters so incredibly happy.Â But the work was not easy.
When they phased out of camp, I started to work as a summer school teacher.Â I taught English in stifling hot classes for over seven summers.Â It never failed to amaze me how many students actually enjoyed coming to summer school, even seemed to fail a class or two during the school year in order to attend.
As I grew older, I grew wiser.Â
It started to dawn on me the real, underlying reasons why summer school had full attendance.Â For some children, it was better than being at home.Â Here was safety, structure, cleanliness, relief from boredom, relief from babysitting their younger siblings, a chance to see friends and food.Â Yes, food.Â Even writing about it now brings tears to my eyes.
Many of my students, and many across the country, do not get to eat three meals a day.Â For them, the free breakfast and lunch was a chance at nourishment.Â Thankfully school food has begun an overhaul, in terms of nourishment, but stop and imagine for a moment:Â what would it be like to go hungry without a meal provided by the school.
Let me tell you about “Sam”.Â Â Sam walked around in sneakers two sizes too big for him, hand-me-downs from his older brother, because his family could not afford new sneakers for him.Â One day I saw him in the school cafeteria, looking disheveled, dirty and totally ostracized from the other students.Â I sat down next to him and asked him how he was feeling, how was his day going, etc.Â He looked at me and said, “Ms. K.Â I am hungry.Â The school says I don’t qualify for school food.”
I asked him if his parents got new jobs (last he told me they delivered newspapers in the morning) and he told me no.Â I asked if they filled out the forms necessary for free school breakfast and lunch.Â He said they didn’t know how to.Â I went immediately to his school counselor and “calmly” told her she had better help Sam or else.
Sam got school food starting that day and through his senior year.Â Although very smart, I saw Sam every summer in summer school.Â I was no longer surprised.Â Sam also had an “anonymous” sponsor who made sure he had a new pair of sneakers and clothes, paper and pens and notebooksÂ at the beginning of the school year.Â The sponsor even bought him a sewing machine and materials.
But how many children have I failed during the time that I was unaware of the “unspoken reason” for their summer school attendance?Â How many children were living in neglect, by fault of their parents or by fault of circumstance?Â I no longer teach summer school and each summer the thought crosses my mind that I am not there to advocate for them.