December 16, 2016

"Hunger Hits Home" school project develops understanding and empathy - By Lorraine Glowczak

Fourth Graders from Mrs. Sanborn’s, Mrs. Zima’s, Ms. Pelletier’s and Ms. Durkan’s classrooms at Manchester Elementary School were a quiet and captive audience on Tuesday, December 6th while Rene Daniel, general assistance administrator with the Town of Windham, gave a fun and interactive talk regarding one portion of his job, the Windham Food Pantry. His discussion, held in the school’s library, was a part of a 4-week “Hunger Hits Home” Project. The purpose of this assignment is to not only reach required learning targets, but to help students better understand hunger in the world and develop empathy for others.

“The Hunger Hits Home Project explores the issues of hunger in our community and beyond with the intention of service to others,” fourth grade teacher, Stacey Sanborn explained. “This inquiry based project opens up conversations between students on important subject matters surrounding food scarcity and homelessness. Additionally, the project will help students better understand issues such as job loss and the typical family income required to live on a monthly basis.”

This interdisciplinary unit meets required learning targets in areas of math, science, language arts and social studies. Using the Ox-fam International lesson plans and educational objectives, the children learn to identify a problem reflecting a need or want and to define scarcity through the use of news articles, picture books, read alouds and websites to help teach about local, national and world hunger. Experiential learning is another way the students discover these objectives that include the aspects of food scarcity of which they may not be aware. 

“The students recently participated in an assimilation of meals that was based upon income,” Sanborn explained. “To clarify the concepts of income as it relates to food availability and quantity, each student was separated into three groups: High, middle and low income. Each group was given pictures of the meal they would hypothetically receive in that income group.”

For the high income group, accurately representing only 20 percent of the world’s population (four students), each person in that group got to “eat” a well-balanced meal of pasta with sauce, a salad and juice. For those students placed in the middle income bracket, consisting of 30 percent of the world’s population (seven students) each pupil “ate” rice, beans and water.  The remaining 50 percent (12 students) were placed in the low income group and only got to “eat” rice and water, some of which had to be shared with other family members. Some students learned they were from a culture that gave men food first, with any remaining food going to women and children.

Madeline Beckwith and Ava Wardwell were two students who were part of the 50 percent population. “We were from the group who pretended to be from Uganda,” Beckwith explained. “If I really lived in Uganda I would feel sad to be a part of the low income group because I wouldn’t get to eat very much.” 

“I learned that in some parts of Uganda children get sick and starve,” Wardwell shared her discovery. “I also realized that a lot of people in the U.S. and in Maine don’t get enough food and the nutritional value that they need.”

This project has also produced some thought provoking inquiries. “I understand that people are poor but I don’t understand how they get kicked out of their home,” student Julia Dean expressed. “This project is starting to make me realize these things a little bit but I hope I will understand things more after this project is over.”

“People can be homeless and you may not know that they are,” was student Katie Favreau’s observation. “These people can even be your friends. Knowing this makes me sad and I wish there was more that I could do to help.”

Inviting the general assistance administrator to speak to the class helped to reinforce the knowledge of food scarcity and homelessness at the local level, imparting the importance of community service to help those in need. 
“The Windham Food Pantry is one of two in the state that is not based on income. It is based on need,” Daniel explained. “All donations are given through the kindness and goodness of others.”
Daniel further clarified to the fourth graders how important food is in one’s life. “If you don’t consume nutritionally balanced food, you can’t read and you can’t play. Humans need food for energy to do these types of things, much like a car needs gas to run.”
At the end of Daniel’s presentation, students individually reflected upon what they had discovered by answering questions such as: 1. The new facts learned, 2. Stating two ah-ha moments and 3. Expressing the one big question they still had. 

“Students will choose from a number of different projects that will require them to use their new understanding of hunger in the community to educate others about this need,” Sanborn explained the final project to showcase the students new learning. “They might organize a hunger banquet for other classrooms, create a brochure, pamphlet or website to educate the community about services available. Also, students are helping now to organize a food drive at school with donations benefiting the Food Pantry. Students have written letters to a few local businesses to ask for donations.”

The Windham Food Pantry is located on 377 Gray Road in Windham and is opened Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment. Call 892-1931 to set up an appointment. Food and non-food items such as toilet paper and toothpaste are always needed and accepted.

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