BOWIE, Texas, April 26, 2006 — -- Kayla Brown was barely out of college, in her first teaching job, when she made a discovery that would change her life.
One particularly delightful kindergarten student, a bright little boy whose initially sunny disposition and eagerness to learn were a joy to Brown, suddenly changed.
"He snapped," she said. "It was like he just went from this perfect little sweet boy, then he was mean and he was awful. And his grades went down. It was like he wasn't even trying. He didn't want to," she said.
No amount of coaxing, correcting or caring could shake the child from this change in personality. Then came the day when Brown, 24, was on cafeteria duty and heard a group of children laughing. They were laughing at the little boy.
"I walked over closer to the table, and he was licking his plate," Brown said.
The child was holding the plate in front of him and licking it, oblivious to the laughter around him. She thought he was goofing off or playing for attention until she moved closer and looked into the eyes of an intensely sad child.
He explained to her: "I'm hungry."
Brown learned that the boy's father had disappeared, leaving the family with no money and no food in the house. She went to her church and sought help for the family. That seemed like enough of a fix until she moved to a new school in Bowie, Texas, where there was a higher proportion of children living in poverty.
"My whole class," she said, "was just, you know, irritable."
She noticed they were particularly cranky on Monday mornings, and she remembered that had been the case with the little boy in her previous school. He received subsidized school breakfasts and lunches during the week, but went hungry for most evenings, and much of the weekend.
"And I thought about that little boy, and it just kind of came back to me," Brown said.
She reviewed test scores, poverty levels and behavior patterns, and added it up: Chances were that many of these children were simply hungry. She went to her new pastor and got her new church moving to supplement their meals.