Third grade class at McCall Elementary takes protest against hunger to Senator Bob Casey’s office
By Nicole Contosta
You’re never too young to learn how to stand up for your principals. It’s a belief that the third grade class at McCall elementary put into practice on May 8, 2012. That’s when they took their paper plate campaign to Senator Casey’s Philadelphia Office by marching twenty-five blocks from their school during lunchtime.
They went to protest the Senator’s decision to cut funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), explained the class’s teacher Lisa Ann Hantman. Instead of placards, paper plates proved an effective way to protest hunger by writing facts about the issue on the plates, Hantman explained. Students attached some plates to sticks as they marched. The remaining 1050, served to symbolize the fact that too many Philadelphians suffer from severe food insecurity. After all, Philabundance alone feeds 65,000 people a week, Hantman said.
The class, who skipped their own lunches to make the long walk, “were very energized as they marched,” Hantman explained, adding that she had graham crackers on hand in case the kids got too hungry. Along the way they spiritedly chanted things like, “One, two, three, four. Kick hunger out the door.”
When the class arrived, Erin Wilson, Senator Casey’s Deputy Political Director, took them to the conference room. There, Wilson gave the class a general overview of Casey’s job, stressing how much he cares about children. Then each of Hantman’s twenty-nine students made mini presentations about how important it was for the government to support “services for those who are food insecure,” Hantman explained. The students supplied Wilson with facts such as “one out of every four people in Philadelphia is food insecure.” When the presentations ended, Wilson encouraged the students to ask questions. According to Hantman, Wilson seemed surprised by the depth of their knowledge about hunger insecurity. One student even asked if Senator Casey really cared about children, then why did he take money away from SNAP. To Hantman, that student sounded more like a voting constituent than a typical nine-year-old. As a result, Wilson explained the political art of compromise. Senator Casey, Hantman relayed of Wilson’s explanation, had to agree to cut SNAP in order to receive funding for another program.
Once the kids walked the twenty-five blocks back from the Senator’s Office to McCall Elementary, they were “starving,” Hantman explained. Before Hantman would let them eat their lunches, “We talked about the difference between what they felt then and what it meant to feel that every day.”
The exercise was only one aspect of Hantman’s year-long program on hunger prevention. During the Superbowl of Caring, the class collected 850 food goods for Philabundance. On June 5th, the class will help harvest crops for food insecure senior citizens at Southwark Community Gardens. And on June 6th, Brian Sims, the recently elected State Representative for the 182nd District, will visit Hantman’s class to discuss hunger. But beyond the events, the issue of hunger has been included into many facets of the student’s curriculum. For instance, Hantman planned a lesson that asked kids to determine the cost for a family of four to eat nutritiously for one year. The lesson, Hantman explained, incorporated both math and science. First the kids had to learn about what food is healthy. Then they had to calculate the costs. When doing that, they compared it to how little money a family of four would have leftover for nutritious food if it only earned 50,000 a year, Hantman explained. “The kids really love learning this way,” Hantman said. “And the parents are very pleased. They know that their kids are working really hard to learn about how to affect change in the world.”
This past year marks the sixth consecutive year, Hantman has made a social issue, like hunger, part of her curriculum. It all started when Hantman joined the non-profit organization Need in Deed, which “helps to support teachers conduct large-scale service learning for grades third through ninth.
“It’s not just service it’s a year long study. The kids decide on the project, how and what they’re going to learn about it,” Hantman explained. “When they leave my classroom, they know how to teach themselves things. Need in Deed,” Hantman continued, “really changed my teaching style. It revitalized my career.”