2016 is a year for change and no greater truth exists than the saying, “It’s time for our students’ learning environment to stop being attacked.”

If this is so, the budget cuts in the Hartford school system must not persist. If there is enough money to hire new police officers, then there must be money to keep our teachers in schools and feed our students the food they deserve. Both are necessary to teach our students the things they need to succeed.

On March 28, Grow Hartford Youth launched their “10 Slices of Justice” campaign for Hartford Public Schools at the Hartford Arts & Activism Fair at Downtown Hartford Public Library. This campaign stems from youth seeking solutions to the problems they see with their school lunches, problems that at times prevent some Hartford Public School students from eating the lunch or going back to their classes hungry due to their quality and small portions.

What is essential about this campaign is the fact that it is led by youth voicing their opinions against an injustice they want to live without. Grow Hartford Youth stand against adultism (prejudice and discrimination against young people) and encourage students to speak up about the ideals they feel strongly about.

As stated by a member of the youth group, “There’s no greater start for change than to make your voices heard amidst those who seek to silence it.” Youth can no longer sit idle and wait for change to take place, but rather be the instruments that foster the changes they wish to see.

From the “10 Slices of Justice” campaign, the Grow Hartford Youth have modeled the changes they, along with their peers, wish to see in their school lunches. These changes must not just take place in certain schools, but all of Hartford Public Schools.

Some points of the “10 Slices of Justice” are bigger portions, better quality foods, scratch cook kitchens, a greater variety of options, and more culturally appropriate lunches.

These “slices” are fundamental to the creation of a just school food system –a system that will greatly benefit students’ health and promote their attentiveness to the education they are receiving, which in turn improves their performance.

In 2014, 84.7 percent of students in Hartford relied on free and reduced lunch. As of the current school year, all Hartford Public School students are eligible to receive free lunch. For some students, this is an essential meal they cannot go without, so what the students are being fed should reflect the changes they wish to see in the current lunches they receive.

Improving school lunches will in turn improve student’s ability to retain what they’re being taught. With looming budget cuts, students learning environments are expected to diminish in multiple ways. If teachers are supported to do their jobs, we will not need more police officers. In addition, our students will be imparted with the knowledge and wisdom to carry forth lives that are testament to their teacher’s good work and to a just school food system arising from the Grow Hartford Youth’s “10 Slices of Justice.”

If you’d like to learn more about Grow Hartford Youth Program and about our campaign, visit our Facebook “Grow Hartford Youth Program” or contact us by e-mail growhartfordyouth@gmail.com.

Owusu Darko is a senior at Great Path Academy in Manchester and a first year member of the Grow Hartford Youth Program.

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