Sunday, November 04, 2007

What's in a Backpack?

This autumn numerous stories have been dedicated to the contents of backpacks and their surprising uses.

First we'll dispense with the security angles. The security conscious, are advocating transparent material for backpacks so that nothing nefarious can be carried around. Of course, privacy disappears as well.

Of course there's always someone trumping the last guy, so a Massachusetts company is selling bulletproof backpacks. Yeah, no utility belt yet but you never know.
It started with the Columbine shooting in 1999. Curran and Mike Pelonzi said that they watched and worried for their own children. They had the idea to hide bulletproof material inside a backpack. They call it defensive action.

"If the kid has a backpack next to them, or under the desk, they can pick it up, the straps act as a handle and it becomes a shield," Curran said.

It's much lighter than a 15-pound police vest. After three years of experimenting, the backpacks that were tested by an outside lab ranked threat level two. It stops an assortment of bullets, including 9-millimeter hollow point bullets.
Cool, huh.

But the best ideas come from those who actually care about kids (and Washington will do their best to stomp them out). Instead of filling backpacks with senseless homework, some schools send food home with kids! And you know what, the kids test scores go up like crazy!

I know, I know - it must be a scam. No federal program relentlessly and mercilessly punishing schools? How could -gulp- "feeding kids" be anything but a left-wing fraud?

Read the article and see if you can figure out the mystery.
Food For Kids seeks to provide nutritional support for children without turning them into "breadwinners." It is designed for children whose parents won't or can't access traditional food relief programs. In many cases, schools let parents know that food is being sent home so that children can concentrate better on homework and school work, but in others, the parents are not notified. Sadly, some parents will withhold food as a form of punishment or eat the food so children still go hungry, and some will even sell the food for drink or drugs. In the worst cases, students are fed at school at the end of the day because it isn't safe to send food home with them.

"We do not recommend sending notices home to all parents regarding the availability of the Food For Kids program because too many parents will sign up for any free program," reported Rhea. "We prefer that all teachers, counselors, school nurses, and office personnel be informed about the program and asked to refer students to the school coordinator if they suspect there is a lack of food at home. The coordinator will then talk to the student and determine if there is a need."

To meet the criteria for this backpack program, a student must have physical, educational, or emotional problems in school due to hunger at home. The physical signs students often exhibit are headaches, dizziness, stomach aches, weight loss, or low weight. Educational problems may include poor grades or falling grades, lack of concentration in class, and falling asleep in class. Typical emotional problems include being disruptive in class, low self-esteem, fighting, and stealing food.

Principal Bess Scott has seen the effect of hunger firsthand in the countenance of a beautiful, vibrant kindergartner who became quiet and sullen, and sometimes withdrawn, in the afternoon. "Even her face looked different," Scott observed. "Her teacher finally diagnosed the problem. She was storing chewed food in her cheeks to take home at night."

As her teacher developed a relationship with the child and her family, she learned that until the age of five the child had been homeless and had at times lived in a car. This child truly feared that there might not be food at home. Scott and her staff at McPhee Elementary often found food in the girl's locker that had been partially eaten or salvaged from another student or the trash. While they finally convinced her that food would be available to her at home, she reverted to that behavior when she was under stress.

Issues related to hunger are not unique at Scott's school. Because 85 percent of its students receive free and reduced lunches, it was invited to join in a backpack program sponsored by the Food Bank of Lincoln (Nebraska). McPhee is a Community Learning Center school with a very strong partnership with First Presbyterian Church, which supports the program with both labor and money. The food bank, the Lincoln Public Schools, and many partners supply the food. In the last school year, the food bank's backpack program came to the aid of more than 500 students in various local schools.

"Hunger is a significant issue in our relatively affluent community," explains Scott Young of the Food Bank of Lincoln. "During the 2006-2007 school year, 4,551 children, or 30.7 percent of our community's elementary-age children, participated in the free lunch program. Many of those children and their families are in need of food support."
OMG! IT'S NOT A SCAM!But is is a threat to dumb-ass federal mandates like NCLB. And the threat is growing...
The Arkansas Rice Depot and its president Laura Rhea realize that a family that can't afford food probably also can't afford personal grooming items. So, in addition to backpacks full of food, the organization provides "health kits" which include toothpaste, a toothbrush, soap, a comb, and often deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, fingernail clippers, and band-aids. The kits sometimes also contain a washcloth and towel or hand towel. These items are sealed in plastic bags and can easily be added to backpacks as needed.

"We have a children's disaster kit that includes a small stuffed animal, a coloring book and crayons or colored pencils, and a toy police car, ambulance, or fire truck all in a zip-lock bag," says Rhea. "These kits are given to children when a parent goes to jail, their house burns, or a parent goes to the hospital, or if a child and parent have to leave home quickly due to abuse."

There are kits with basic school supplies, and the organization gives out new blankets in the winter. Coordinators get to know students and usually discover when the gas is turned off and there is no heat or when a family is temporarily living in a tent, a car, or has only a space heater at home. Rhea remarks that students who can't sleep due to cold are as ill-prepared to reach their full potential in class as those who are hungry.

"When we discovered that more than 500 students in our Food For Kids schools were either pregnant or teen moms, we decided they needed special attention too," Rhea added. "We heard of students not eating properly during pregnancy and students dropping out of school because they couldn't handle school, a job, and a baby."
This country needs an expose about this stuff before it's too late.

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