Fort Wayne Community Schools tackles hunger - September 01, 2007

Record Number: 3375
Displayed from: Sep 01, 2007 , until: Oct 01, 2007

Fort Wayne Community Schools, with support from SchenkelShultz Architecture, is working to remove one of the cruelest barriers to student achievement: Hunger. Each Friday at Adams Elementary School, students are sent home with a backpack full of food to make sure they have something nutritious to eat over the weekend. Blessings in a Backpack, sponsored by SchenkelShultz, began as a pilot program in the spring and produced immediate results. The single most influential factor impeding student achievement is poverty. There is a strong correlation between poverty and test results: The higher the poverty, the lower the scores. Poverty thwarts students' abilities to perform for a variety of factors: Quality of health care, adequacy of surroundings, mobility, parental involvement and most of all, lack of nutrition. The program was started at Adams because it has the highest percentage of children with families qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches at 94.4 percent. Blessings in a Backpack is part of a national program started by USA Harvest to provide six meals to children on weekends. The food is packed in backpacks that are sent home with the children on Fridays and returned empty each Monday. USA Harvest has established this program at four elementary schools in Louisville, Kentucky. Actress Hilary Duff recently teamed with USA Harvest to initiate the Blessings in a Backpack program at Normandie Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles. In Fort Wayne, Gretchen and Mike Gouloff approached FWCS to ask about implementing the program. Meijer provides the food at a reduced price with the Gouloff's paying the cost. The school is responsible for organizing volunteers to get the food into the backpacks. "We are optimistic about the positive effect the Blessings in a Backpack program will have for a full school year," said Brenda West, principal of Adams Elementary. "We did a trial run of the program last spring with great success." Adams offered the program from April 27 through June 1, and saw attendance on Fridays jump from an average of 94 percent for the previous quarter to nearly 97 percent for the days the backpacks were given out. "We can provide the highest quality teachers and curriculum, but if children are hungry they will not achieve at their level of potential," West said. "We hope to expand the Blessings in a Backpack program to additional schools yet this year," stated Mike Gouloff, Chairman and CEO of SchenkelShultz. "Our goal is to offer a program to feed all the children who need it. To do so, we'll need support from the community." FWCS, with almost 32,000 students, serves the highest concentration of children experiencing hunger in the area, and its percentage far exceeds the state average. For the 2006 school year, the comparison of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch for FWCS versus the other area districts was: FWCS 63.6% SACS 7.4% NACS 10.1% EACS 33.6% FWCS also served 269 homeless children in 2006-07. A large percentage of these families are not living in shelters where they are provided with food but rather living with relatives or friends. FWCS and SchenkelShultz hope that by eliminating one crucial barrier in students' lives they can help each child achieve academic success and meet their potential.

With nearly 30,000 students, Fort Wayne Community Schools is one of the largest school districts in Indiana. FWCS proudly allows families to choose any of its 50 schools through its successful school-choice program creating diversity in each school, including some with more than 75 languages spoken. FWCS offers seven magnet schools focusing on areas such as science and math, communication, fine arts or Montessori at the elementary and middle school level. In high school, students can choose from the prestigious International Baccalaureate program, Project Lead the Way or New Tech Academy as well as other rigorous academic and specialty training programs.