This year I became a mentor at my school. Our Title I school has many students that are living in poverty and need a support system. One program that we started last year is called, "SOS--Save One Student". The idea is that each adult who can will select a student (or two) and develop a relationship with him or her.
I chose P (a fifth grade girl who was in my Literacy Champions program two years ago) and her niece (yes, you read that right), T--a third grader who is struggling. I love both of these girls. They are both full of vim and vigor. They have attitude that exudes from almost every word they speak. They are tough on the outside, but VERY soft and lovable on the inside. They make me smile on a regular basis.
After getting her breakfast at school yesterday morning, T came to me crying as if the world was ending. Through her sobs she explained that they told her she could not get lunch today. Then she proceeded to tell me that she "hates peanut butter and jelly" and how unfair it is that she would have to eat that because they lost the form her Mama sent in. Picture all of this being said by a child is just taller than three feet with the head bobbing side to side. (I should explain that with the federal lunch program if the free lunch form is not returned, then you have to have peanut butter and jelly until you either pay or bring in the application.)
I realized then that we had a choice. She wasn't going to be able to let this go. There was NO WAY she could go on to class and focus on learning to read better. She was too locked in on that peanut butter and jelly sandwich that she DID NOT deserve (in her opinion). I tried to calm her down and suggest that I could call her Mom and see where the form is. She wouldn't settle down. My choice, when it came right down to it is this: she could eat peanut butter and jelly at lunch or she could learn. I chose learning. I went into the cafeteria and made the two day deposit for lunch into her account.
I am not writing this story because I want any praise. I simply want to make it clear: For students who come from poverty and underpriveledged living conditions, it is very difficult to settle down to the task of learning when the basic needs go unmet. The sense of "fairness" is very high---whether we agree with it or not.
I went to T's classroom to tell her that her lunch would be there for her and that she had to get the form filled out and returned tomorrow. We wiped her eyes and talked about the focus she would need for learning. When I asked her teacher how she did that day, she said "great". And all it took was to have a "non-peanut butter" lunch!!