85% of students in our school district qualify for free or reduced lunch. See: http://www.allentownsd.org/233410720153325150/site/default.asp
The child poverty rate in Allentown is more than double the national average. And the USA has the highest child poverty rate of all industrialized nations. 1 in 4 children live in households that are considered "food insecure." And that number keeps growing. Kids cannot learn if they are hungry. Free breakfast and free lunch are offered to all students in the ASD. It's necessary. I've seen the hunger, it's real. Breakfast is important, but I don't support the ASD's new "Start Your Day Right" before school program for several reasons, mainly because a new administrator was hired at a salary of 84k while 247 teachers received pink slips, and that's just wrong. This new administrator, Joyce Marin, is the former Allentown Economic Development Director. Some people say her position was created as a political favor to Mayor Pawlowski. She's a nice lady, but not qualified. She has a background in business, an MBA. That does not qualify her to run school programs. As an educator, I am not qualified to advise hedge fund managers, so what makes her qualified to advise educators?
300 community volunteers will be needed to run the program, because, well, it takes a village! And volunteers will need to get 3 background checks (the district will reimburse the $53.00 cost and help with all the paperwork), plus a TB test (also provided by district), plus attend training sessions. This is an unrealistic expectation. And how will volunteers know how to manage large groups of kids or handle special needs, or discipline? It is unrealistic to expect parents in the ASD to volunteer. It's also very nervy to ask for volunteers during tough economic times when so many people have lost jobs, or are working 2-3 jobs just to get by. This just shows how out of touch the administration is with reality. This program may look great on paper, but will be difficult to implement. Hey, they even have a logo!
The administration sees this program as a "fabulous opportunity" for community to get involved and support education! What kind of dream world do these people exist in? There is an organization called the PTA, which has always provided volunteer opportunities. I have been a PTA volunteer, for many years. I know from experience that it is extremely difficult to recruit parents to volunteer in the ASD due to work schedules, and because some feel intimidated, don't speak English, or they just don't care. Right now, according to the ASD website they have recruited only 50 volunteers, and they will need 300 by Sept. 2!
This new sunshiny fresh experiment, along with a new admin. position, were created mainly because of Dr. Z's changes to the school bell schedule, which have caused a conflict for many parents, and also because they think that this program will help make up for cutting the phys ed and arts programs. Elementary students will now be arriving at 8:45, which is 45 minutes later than they are used to. Teachers will arrive at 8 am, and have their prep time before students arrive. So, parents who go to work early will need to do something with their children before school starts. The geniuses came up with this grandiose, complicated plan which incorporates food, fitness, fun, and even more test prep! Hey, we can align it with Michele Obama's "Let's Get Movin" program, since 40% of ASD kids are overweight, and recess has been cut in order to spend more time on test prep. It all aligns so nicely with "resiliency" and "standards aligned systems" and "rigor" and all the other corporate nonsense. Only thing is, a voluntary program in a high poverty district is not a very good idea.
Here's a more realistic idea which is backed by research, has already been implemented in some schools in the ASD (especially early childhood centers), and is gaining popularity across the country. Breakfast in the Classroom. It ensures that all students are fed, it guarantees better student performance. It helps disadvantaged kids feel comfortable and secure because they get to share food, and socialize with their classmates and teacher. It's educational because they learn about nutrition and manners. It's easy. It only takes 10 minutes to serve, once all students have arrived at school. The benefits are enormous. Breakfast is always served in the classroom during testing.
I know my solution is not a before school program, but I am presenting it because it is very unlikely that "Start Your Day Right" will actually happen without volunteers, and it's very important that kids eat breakfast. Breakfast in the classroom for all students is a good idea.
Here's a link to the ASD website: http://www.allentownsd.org/2334107268556893/site/default.asp
UPDATE 8/29: According to the ASD website, Start Your Day Right will not start until Sept. 19th. So, apparently they need more time to get volunteers, but they will be going ahead with the program.