First Person

Voices: Denver kids need breakfast in the classroom

Denver mom and health justice advocate Graciela Baeza says there is no good reason not to feed kids breakfast in the classroom if schools want to improve academic performance.

Every child has a basic right to healthy food and a healthy life. As a parent and a community leader with Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, I work with other parents and neighborhood leaders to fight for health justice in our communities and to ensure that all children have the access to healthy food that they need to succeed.

Students at a Denver middle school get a quick breakfast at the school’s grab-and-go cart. <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

With a third of all children in Denver living in poverty, low-income families are struggling to obtain their basic needs and access to healthy food. The current economic crisis has forced many parents to work multiple jobs to be able to support their families. Either because of the lack of time or the economic situation they live in, many parents find it difficult to provide breakfast for their children.

A hungry child does not have the ability to learn like a child with a full stomach. For this reason, schools that seek to improve academic achievement must recognize the strong connection between nutrition and a student’s ability to learn.

In our search for solutions, a group of parents from Padres & Jóvenes Unidos designed and published our Health Justice Report, which we released in June.

One of our report’s recommendations is breakfast in the classroom. Serving breakfast in the classroom provides students with the nutrition that they desperately need and helps improve their academic achievement, as well as increases student participation, concentration and overall performance. It also reduces tardiness, discipline incidents and visits to the nurse’s office.

Progress steady, but slow

We recognize Denver Public Schools’ current efforts to improve the health of students and we support the goals of the DPS Health Agenda 2015. This year, the number of schools utilizing breakfast in the classroom grew from 27 to 43. In particular, we would like to thank the Food and Nutrition Services Department for its work.

However, change is still very slow.

As a mother, I am concerned that in the coming years my children will not be able to benefit from a stronger plan of action in the district. Our children are growing every day. We cannot wait until 2015 to fulfill the goals of the DPS Health Agenda.

This is a serious issue – we are talking about families who are struggling to feed their children. We are talking about children who cannot learn because they are hungry. We are talking about parents who are worried about not being able to provide their children with nutritious food. How to deal with the seriousness of this issue should not be left up to each individual principal. Programs and initiatives aimed at improving the health of our children should not be a choice, but instead, a requirement.

Other school districts have already taken great steps to increase the number of students who eat breakfast. For example, two years ago, the Adams 14 school district began providing breakfast in all district classrooms. Denver can do the same. There are no reasons or excuses not to.

We demand that the Denver Board of Education take more leadership and act with a sense of urgency in the expansion of this program by passing a policy to offer breakfast in the classroom in at least half of all elementary, middle and K-8 schools beginning in the 2013-14 school year. We believe this will be a significant step forward for the district.

Padres & Jóvenes Unidos believes that all students deserve a high-quality education that prepares our children for college. To achieve this, schools must ensure that students are receiving the basics they need to learn, such as breakfast. Our children cannot wait any longer.

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

First Person

From ‘abandoned’ to ‘blessed,’ Newark teacher sees herself in her students

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jennifer Palumbo

As I sit down to write about my journey to the USA, all I can think of is the word “blessed.”

You see my story to become Ms. Palumbo started as a whole other person with a different name in a different country. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but my parents either could not keep me or did not want me. I was, according to my adoption papers, “abandoned.” Abandoned is defined as “having been deserted or cast off.” Not a great start to my story, I know.

Well I was then put in an orphanage for children who had no family. Yes at this point I had no family, no home, not even a name.
I spent the first 10 months of my life in this orphanage. Most children at 10 months are crawling, trying to talk, holding their bottles, and some are even walking. Since I spent 10 months laying in a crib, I did none of those things.

Despite that my day to be chosen arrived. I was adopted by an Italian American couple who, after walking up and down rows of babies and children, chose to adopt me. My title just changed from abandoned to chosen.

But that wasn’t the only thing about to change. My first baby passport to leave Colombia is with the name given by the orphanage to an abandoned baby girl with no one. When I arrived in America my parents changed that name to Jennifer Marie Palumbo and began my citizenship and naturalization paperwork so I could become an U.S. citizen.

They tried to make a little Colombian girl an Italian American, so I was raised speaking only English. Eating lots of pasta and living a typical American lifestyle. But as I grew up I knew there was something more — I was something more.

By fourth grade, I gravitated to the Spanish girls that moved into town and spent many after-schools and sleepovers looking to understand who I was. I began to learn how to dance to Spanish music and eat Spanish foods.

I would try to speak and understand the language the best I could even though I could not use it at home. In middle school, high school, and three semesters at Kean University, I studied Spanish. I traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Honduras to explore Spanish culture and language. I finally felt like the missing piece of my puzzle was filled.

And then the opportunity to come to Hawkins Street School came and as what — a bilingual second-grade teacher. I understood these students in a way that is hard to explain.

They are like me but in a way backwards.

They are fluent in Spanish and hungry to obtain fluency in English to succeed in the world. I was fluent in English with a hunger to obtain it in Spanish to succeed in the world. I feel as a child I lost out.

My road until now has by far not been an easy one, but I am a blessed educated Hispanic American. I know that my road is not over. There are so many places to see, so many food to taste, and so many songs to dance too.

I thank my students over the past four years for being such a big part of this little “abandoned” baby who became a “chosen” child grown into a “blessed teacher.” They fill my heart and I will always be here to help them have a blessed story because the stars are in their reach no matter what language barrier is there.

We can break through!

Palumbo is a second-grade bilingual teacher Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.