NYC

Lunches For Students in NYC Schools

The new school year in New York City has just begun, and this year there is big news to accompany it: New York City will start offering free lunch at all of its public schools starting this year, according to The New York Times. All 1.1 million NYC public school students will benefit from this program. The universal free lunch is a welcome addition to the already-existing universal free breakfast for NYC public school students.

 

This announcement is notable for several reasons. Although NYC is not the first major city to offer free lunch at public schools (it follows Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Dallas), it has far more children to feed than the cities listed above. Also, a majority of NYC public school students (75%) already come from families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The combination of these facts means that this new expansion in free lunches affects many New York students and families. According to the Times, this change will impact 200,000 students and save each of their families about $300 per year.

 

New York schools are encouraging families to fill out household income forms that will help the state to better identify students it can aid. The state recently updated the ways in which it tracks and matches families that qualify for benefits like Medicaid. With the updated changes, the new lunch policy should not cost the city more money.

 

School lunches have been making headlines recently for at least two major reasons. Strong evidence for the link between a healthy lunch and school performance or emotional health exists, and researchers are continually confirming this fact. Also, the stigma some students face in a phenomenon known as lunch-shaming - or “holding students publicly accountable for unpaid school lunch bills” - has been generating debate nationwide. The new initiative should directly bolster the former [finding] and work to reduce the latter.

 

Children should have access to all the resources that are possible in order to help them succeed in school. A lunch program for the public school students of the largest city in the US is a big step in the right direction.



 

Children's Health, Today and Now

The New York Times wrote a piece looking back on the accomplishments and frustrations of Dr. Irwin Redlener, one of the founders of the Children’s Health Fund, who is stepping down from his administrative position this week.

 

Dr. Redlener’s team began the Children’s Health Fund in 1987 as a response to the poverty he saw in NYC. Today, it has more than 50 mobile pediatric clinics nationwide, and it is an important model for other initiatives in urban areas where poverty and systemic inequality endanger the health of children. Dr. Redlener lived his life to his word when he said, “life and work are based on a simple message: Kids can’t wait.” He points out that the consequences of failing to address a child’s health needs at each stage of development are real and irreversible. For example, failing to treat a child’s ear infection with antibiotics - a relatively simple thing to do - can lead to hearing loss in the long run, which is both a personal disability and a societal cost.

 

In NYC, the number of children living in city shelters have doubled since 1986. According to the New York Times, there are about 22,000 children living in city shelters today. This statistic has grave implications for children’s health. If these children do not have homes, their nutrition, education, and immunizations are all at risk. Economic factors have worsened the housing situation in NYC for the poor over the past few decades, and society has not come up with sufficient mechanisms to compensate for that.

 

Instead, at the national level, lawmakers seem determined to chip away at the existing social safety net even further in cuts to Medicaid under the proposed healthcare bill. Dr. Redlener told the New York Times that such cuts would leave children in more danger than ever during his career of over 30 years. He said that politicians have certainly frequently debated the parameters of what Medicaid would cover, but to gut the program as it is now being proposed had never entered the picture.

 

It is clear that we are at a critical juncture for the future of children’s healthcare, especially for children living in urban areas. Prioritizing the health of children today means preserving the societal health of the future.

 

To learn more about Dr. Relener and his work, read the full New York Times article. You can also read his upcoming book, "The Future of Us: What the Dreams of Children Mean for Twenty-First-Century America,” which will be published this September.

Water Quality in NYC Schools

A recent article in The New York Times reports that new lead testing in New York City schools reveals that many schools have lead levels that are higher than those recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

 

After high lead levels were exposed in Flint, Michigan, New York City officials were prompted to check lead levels in schools. However, the first round of testing was considered illegitimate after it was revealed that officials had run water for hours before testing the water for lead, a process called flushing that can artificially lower the lead levels in water.

 

Eighty three percent of school buildings in New York have at least one outlet with a lead level above the threshold of 15 parts per billion. Two school buildings in Queens had some of the worst results: in one school with 1,500 students, 34 outlets had levels above 15 parts per billion.

 

The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) responded quickly, sending home letters detailing these results and pledging action. NYCDOE has turned off outlets in question and will not be turning them back on until their levels are found to be under the threshold.  The potential impact of this finding cannot be overstated. It reflects a deeply ingrained system of negligence in the largest school system in the United States (over 1.1 million students attend more than 1,800 schools in New York City).  Despite a gradual decrease of children lead poisoning cases in New York City over the past decade, a problem of this scope shows that the tragedy of Flint is not unique to one particular city.

 

Children are a vulnerable portion of the population when it comes to environmental hazards. They spend their childhood in old school buildings with other students and teachers and will suffer consequences if lawmakers or officials shirk their duty to protect them. Parents are also left similarly helpless if a school system, as large as New York City’s, does not work to maintain the health of its students.

 

Thankfully, this detection occurred before cases of lead poisoning led to tragedy. Perhaps New York is indebted to Flint in that respect. Hopefully, New York City can set a model of decisive, proactive prevention of lead poisoning for future cities and school districts.  In the meantime, it is important for parents to stay involved and informed of their children’s health at school, and for parents to work with schools in order to provide the best possible learning environment for young students.