At a time when public education comes under more scrutiny – and criticism – than ever, let it be known there are an inordinate number of teachers who go the extra mile for their students, without any expectation of fanfare. More of these stories need to be made public as these teachers are the true heroes in the lives of those students.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, first grade teacher Marvin Callahan realizes there is something more important on the minds of his students than what he will be teaching that day – the growling of their stomachs. Thus, he begins the school day by asking each of his pupils what he or she ate for breakfast that morning
“I have kids that come to school every day, and they’re hungry. They come to school, and they’re just unsure,” said the Comanche Elementary School teacher. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
Daily, the 20-year teaching veteran spends a chunk of his own salary to feed hungry children in his classroom. For any who come to school on an empty stomach, Callahan either sends the child to the cafeteria or just walks over to the supply closet behind his desk for some food. Many teachers spend as much as $40 a month of their own cash to purchase supplemental food for these hungry students.
This is a practice that is not uncommon in the nation’s schools. Points of fact, 73% of teachers have hungry students in their classes, according to a report issued in 2013 by the advocacy group, No Kid Hungry.
For two years, New Mexico has ranked first in childhood hunger, with 1 in 3 (33 %) growing up without a study supply of food. In excess of 60% of the students qualify for the federal free or reduced-priced lunch program at Callahan’s school.
According to Callahan, school lunch is the last meal of the day for many students.
“I could not get the image out of my mind – these little kids going home to empty pantries, empty refrigerators, empty stomachs,” Callahan said. “It explained why some kids were having such a hard time concentrating in class and making progress. Could you on a diet of dry ramen noodles?”
As a result, he began stocking his classroom with snacks on a regular basis.
“At least, if I couldn’t do anything else, I could at least have food available at school, and my kids could hae something to eat,” he said.
Next, he became concerned about what his kids were facing after Friday’s dismissal bell.
“Kids were coming up to me and saying, ‘I don’t want to go home for the weekend.’ Not that they didn't want to be at home with their families, but there wasn’t enough food to eat.”
Callahan and the school counselor, Karen Medina, started a backpack program for the Comanche students who need the most help on the weekend. Kids from 25 families get meals and two snacks to take home every Friday, enough to fight their hunger pangs until Monday arrives.
So Callahan and the school counselor, Karin Medina, started a backpack program for the Comanche students who need the most help on the weekend. Every Friday, kids from 25 families get meals and two snacks to take home, enough to fight their hunger pangs until Monday arrives.
Callahan realizes he does not have enough money to feed all the hungry kids in his school on his teacher’s salary, but he does what he can. The Comanche backpack program is not an official nonprofit, nor does it receive any outside funding. The program doesn’t even have a name. Still, it serves as an example of community generosity, which receives some aid from others. A Boy Scout troop has donated money twice this year, and a local business brings by boxes of food weekly.
Callahan knows he doesn't have enough food to feed every hungry child in his school.
"We are doing what we can. I wish we could help more. But I'm a teacher. I don't make a lot of money," he said.
The Comanche faculty, support staff and Principal Rena Highland are the primary funders of the backpack program, using their own modest means to send some security home (in the form of food) with insecure kids in their care. Obviously, this is seldom easy.
“I know where the hearts are of the people who come to work at Comanche Elementary School. And their hearts are for the children,: Callahan said. “Some of these folks are young and raising families themselves. They’ve taken something from their own families so they could provide for these kids.”
The Comanche faculty, Principal Rena Highland and the support staff are primarily the people funding the program and using their own modest means to send some security home with the food insecure kids in their care need. This is not always easy, Callahan says.
Callahan says it’s worth it.
“The kids in my care walk into my room knowing that I care,” he said. “And they walk out knowing that I care.”
Kudos to Marvin Callahan, Comanche Elementary School and the thousands and thousands of other teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty to meet the needs of students all over our nation!