Fairview Elementary Students Learn Firsthand the Politics of Food
By Kimberly Lord Stewart
When the funding for Colorado's school breakfasts was in jeopardy in January, a group of students at Denver's Fairview Elementary Schools took notice. Many of the students are beneficiaries of the subsidized breakfasts, and for them a reduction in funding was a very personal issue. If the funding dried up, so did their morning meal.
The students were pleased the funding was partially restored for the Smart Start breakfast program in 2011, but the students fear it may go away in 2012, and they plan to voice thier opinion about it. "I think it was important to restore the breakfast funding because the poorer families could not afford to pay for breakfast and many kids would go hungry," says Noah London, a class member.
Rather than just worry or complain, as so many people do, Don Diehl's fifith grade class decided to explore just how this funding was established, who it benefits and how to preserve it for the future. The class chose to explore the topic through participation in Project Citizen, a program that promotes student citizenship and involvement in state policy and governmental issues.
The students sought out experts and legislators who are in favor of subsidized breakfasts, as well as those who are not in favor of the policy. The students made phone calls and sent emails seeking out as much information from both sides of the issue.
The class focused on members of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), both in favor and opposed to the measure. Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the House member who represents the Sun Valley neighborhood and a member of the Joint Budget Committee, came to the class to speak directly with the students and answer their questions.
Ferrandino was careful to explain to the students that lawmakers frequently have differences of opinion. "The art of lawmaking is seeking common ground and compromise," he told the class.
On May 16th, when eight students presented their research at the Capitol, they took Ferrandino's message to heart, and when asked by the judging panel, how they felt about the fact that few legislators responded to requests for information, student London said that he understood how busy the JBC legislators are, but they weren't giving up.
The students are sending out hand-written paper plate letters to state legislators asking for support for the school breakfast funding in 2012. Sen. Gail Scwartz, who was present during the student's presentation, told the students this was a great idea and it would surely get some attention among legislators.
Also in preparation for their project, the students invited Rich Jones, Bell Policy Center, director of policy and research from the Bell Policy Center, to visit the class and explain how a bill becomes law, and what role research plays in crafting legislation. The Bell Policy Center testified in 2007, in favor of the bill, saying that "research has consistently found that students who participate in (school breakfast programs) have more nutritious diets, do better academically and have fewer behavioral problems."
"Our class has researched the importance of breakfast," says Genesis Garcia, a class member. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it gets you ready in the morning. It gives you the brain power to get ready for a test and gives you energy for the day," she says. For this reason, the students say they will not give up on their quest to retain funding for the Smart Start breakfast program.
Editor's Note: In addition to their regular class schedule, the class participates in a Denver Urban Garden culinary nutrition and garden program, where they learn about nutrition, culinary skills and gardening. In the summer, a group of students host a weekly farmer's market in the Sun Valley neighborhood. For the sake of disclosure, journalist Kimberly Lord Stewart volunteers in Don Diehl's class, and teaches students culinary nutrition.