Often one does not realize how information gathered may be used to benefit others when the information is first received. Such is the case of the Memorial High School Evening Meal Program. Several years ago, Art Camosy, MTI Vice President and MTI’s Senior Faculty Representative for Memorial High School, attended a lecture given by Columbia Teachers’ College Professor Richard Rothstein. The lecture was sponsored by MTI, State Representative Cory Mason (Racine), and several entities within the UW. Professor Rothstein spoke about the impact of poverty on learning, citing, among other things, that a lack of medical and dental care result in lack of readiness for school, one of the causes of an achievement gap for the children growing up in poverty.
According to Rothstein in his book, “Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Achievement Gap” (www.epi.org/publication/books_class_and_schools/), children of high school drop-outs probably know 400 words by the time they enter school; children of high school graduates 1600 words; and children of college graduates 2400 words. That preparedness deficit added to poor nutrition and lack of regular meals makes it almost impossible for a child to catch up with his/her peers who do not experience the described complicating factors. Rothstein states, “Low-income kindergartners whose height and weight are below normal children for their age tend to have lower test scores …. Indeed, the relationship between good nutrition and achievement is so obvious, that some school districts, under pressure recently to increase poor children’s test scores, boosted caloric content of school lunches on test days.”
Having heard Rothstein’s passion on the impact of poverty on nutrition, and nutrition on the achievement gap, Camosy approached MTI Executive Director John Matthews about providing an evening meal at Memorial. Matthews approached United Way President Leslie Howard, who was excited about the idea and offered UWDC support. MTI and United Way met last spring with various Memorial staff, students, parents and community members to get the project rolling. The Memorial Evening Meal Project got under way. Matthews also contacted Madison Mayor Paul Soglin to ensure appropriate bus transportation. Kick-off was last Monday, with 100 meals served and the number of participants rising. Added benefit to the students participating is tutoring by upper level students and teachers, all of whom are volunteering their time and talents. Thanks to the progressive Memorial Principal Bruce Dahmen, who not only has worked with Camosy to make the project a reality, but whose efforts in working with others in the District have made the Evening Meal Program an instant success. Camosy’s idea is sure to spread to other schools. It’s impact on the achievement gap is certain.