Teachers in West Virginia Made Sure Kids Had Food to Eat During Statewide Strike
Two in three West Virginia students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
As West Virginia’s statewide teachers’ strike enters its fourth day, teachers are making sure that students don’t go hungry.
In the absence of school, some teachers have set up food distribution points for students in food insecure households, CNN reports.
“Before they made the decision to strike they wanted to make sure their students' needs were taken care of,” Jennifer Wood, spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers union, told CNN.
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Two in three West Virginia students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the West Virginia Department of Education, and overall the state is ranked 38th in the nation for food security, with 15% of households food insecure between 2013 and 2015.
For some students, not going to school could mean days of missing one or more meals, a food bank volunteer, Erin Rouse, told ABC 7 News.
“There’s nothing at home for them,” Rouse said. “If they don’t have the food that’s provided from these meals, they don’t have anything.”
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West Virginia teachers began their strike last Thursday, calling for higher wages and better healthcare. The strike came after Gov. Jim Justice proposed a 2% raise to go into effect in July, increasing to a 4% raise within three years — which teachers say is not enough to cover rising costs of living.
Although schools closed again Tuesday, Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, a teachers’ union, told CNN that talks between unions and state government leaders were “making some progress.”
For the past 4 school days, #WestVirginia public schools have been closed in all 55 counties for a statewide teacher & public employee strike. We are documenting the expressive culture & #laborlore surrounding the strike, including protest signs, songs, language, & attire. pic.twitter.com/z04wNDg1mm— WV Folklife Program (@WVFolklife) February 27, 2018
In the meantime, teachers haven’t been the only group to step up to provide food for to the more than 180,000 students that benefit from free school lunch programs.
Churches and food pantries across the state opened their doors to hungry students, West Virginia MetroNews reports.
“When we saw [the strike] was going to go on longer, we do a daily message from the church and we just included that in the daily message and people are responding very generously,” Freeda Canterbury, an administrative assistant at a church in Parkersburg, told MetroNews.
Missing out on meals can have serious implications on student performance, studies have shown.
Kids who come from food insecure backgrounds are less likely to graduate high school, tend to score lower on math and reading assessments, and are at a higher risk of developing chronic illnesses later in life, which could affect future educational opportunities, according to Children’s HealthWatch.
The USDA reports that nearly one in five children nationwide live in food-insecure households, making feeding American students a problem that will last even after the teachers’ strike inevitably ends.