Taking Stock: Where KIDS Has Been...Where It's Going
by Larry Levine
On a cold winter's day in February 1994, Jane and I faced 100 sixth grade students from the York Middle School in York, Maine. Two sixth grade teachers had asked us to participate in a year long program on food by speaking to the students about hunger and poverty. After much discussion, Jane and I agreed that I would do the teaching. We did not know it at the time, but this encounter would be the start of Kids Can Make A Difference (KIDS).
Despite my lack of knowledge about communicating with students this age, the session went well. The students' interest in learning about hunger and poverty led to additional sessions. We worked with smaller class sizes in order to maximize student participation.
Based on our experience with the York Middle School students, we decided to find out if other schools would be interested in having their students learn about hunger and poverty. We read in local newspapers about schools that were staging special events such as helping out at a local food pantry, or holding a "hunger banquet." We contacted the teachers involved, explained what we had done at York Middle School and arranged to speak to their students. Based on our experiences with these schools, we founded KIDS as an educational program for middle-and high school students that focused on the root causes of hunger, the people most affected, solutions and how students can help. We felt that the major goal of KIDS should be to stimulate the students to take some definite follow-up actions as they began to realize that one person can make a difference. The program rapidly developed to include schools in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. By working with this expanded school base, we learned what worked and what parts of our program needed refinement.
It became obvious to us that we needed help in areas such as administrative and technical support. Fortunately, both of us were members of the WHY Board of Directors, and were familiar with the work done by the organization. KIDS made a presentation to the staff and board and they agreed to help us during the initial growth stages. Ultimately, KIDS became an official program of WHY.
Jane was quick to realize that the missing ingredient in KIDS was the lack of a Teacher Guide to complement the work we were doing in the schools. The answer was obvious. We simply needed a dedicated teacher with outstanding writing skills who knew or was willing to learn about hunger and poverty. We knew a unique person who possessed all these qualities, but did not know if she would be willing to take on a project of this magnitude. Fortunately, despite the fact that we could not (and did not) promise a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Stephanie Kempf agreed to join our team. Stephanie did her research, spoke to teachers and hunger activists, read hunger curricula, observed us in classes, and devoted over two years of her life to developing the KIDS Teacher Guide, Finding Solutions To Hunger: Kids Can Make A Difference, which was published by WHY in September, 1997. Since publication of the Guide,, the the program has expanded greatly and now reaches thousands of schools and other venues worldwide.
The strength of KIDS continues to be the outstanding group of dedicated teachers involved in the program at the classroom level. Teachers at all class levels are adapting lessons from the Guide for use in their daily classes. KIDS is a program that helps students understand that they and their parents can affect what happens in their world, country and community.
The outpouring of writing from students and teachers led us to start, in the Spring of 1994, a KIDS Newsletter published three times a year.
KIDS is definitely a "work in progress." There is much to accomplish, and we need all the help we can get. If you are interested in learning more about how you can help, please contact us at:
KIDS Can Make a Difference
140 East 72nd Street
New York, NY 10021
Phone (212) 861-0911fax (212) 452-1587