By Ashley Yamileth
The writer is a Prince George’s County student leader for the Maryland Students for Educational Equity Program and a volunteer student advocate for the American Heart Association.
We need free, healthier, and equitable meals for students of all ages in Maryland schools.
Growing up in Prince George’s County while having one parent be more present than the other has been tough. When I think about the financial stress my mother dealt with as me and my siblings grew up, I will always vividly remember me and my siblings’ experiences with public school lunches.
My mother had to pay $2.25 per lunch meal every single day for three kids and sometimes she couldn’t afford that. The school breakfast was free for a while, but only if you made it on time. My neighbor and best friend can tell you I loved being early to school, but with two other siblings who didn’t feel the same way about school, it wasn’t always possible.
I had to wait until lunch time to eat, but even then, it wasn’t always certain I’d have something that would fill me up so that I could focus on learning the rest of the day.
When my mom forgot to add money to my lunch account, and didn’t have cash to give me to pay for lunch, I would enter my pin number and the register would make a loud buzz. Suddenly, everyone – my friends, my classmates, and my teachers – was aware that I could not get a lunch today, or at least not a decent one.
Instead, I would be given a few slices of cold American cheese stacked in between two slices of sandwich bread.
To this day, it is still the most embarrassing thing that occurred to me while I attended public school. I wondered at the time and still do, why do kids have to go through this? I did not deserve to be learning on an empty stomach and wait until 5 p.m. in the afternoon for my mom to come home from work and cook something. No child does.
From personal experience, I know how bullying begins, and this is a definitely a major factor.
I’m not sharing this story for me and my siblings to feel pitied for our experience. I am sharing this to support legislation to provide free school meals for all students, regardless of their family’s income, and because I don’t want my school-age nephews to experience what I did. My nephews, and all kids, deserve to be fed a hot, healthy, and free breakfast and lunch at school every day.
I want what should have been prioritized already, what I wish I could say is already exemplified in our state – nourishing every child in order to ensure they have a better learning experience and environment in Maryland schools.