This post originally appeared on the blog Miss Johnston’s Journey.
Let me get right to it.
I was a student that was part of the free and reduced lunch program 2nd-12th grade.
My parents divorced when I was 7, and my mom, brother, and I moved in with my grandmother. My mom went from being a stay-at-home Army wife to a single working mom. We lived with my grandma for a short time before we got our own apartment. I lived in that apartment from 3rd grade until the summer before my senior year of high school.
Growing up, I didn’t have any friends who lived in apartments. It was a dream of mine to have a house like my friends. I lived in a very safe neighborhood. My apartment building was surrounded by big, beautiful, historic homes. If I told you my address without the apartment number, you’d think I lived in a really big house. Sometimes I did do that. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was embarrassed. Just because I didn’t know anyone else who lived in an apartment.
To clarify, I was never hungry. My mom worked extremely hard, and always put my brother and I before herself. There’s a good chance she’s reading this. Mom, I never knew how much you sacrificed for yourself until I got older. Thank you for always making Landon and I your priority.
I wore name brand clothes. I was always clean. In fact, if you saw me as a kid, you wouldn’t know that I was on free and reduced lunch. Most of my teachers probably didn’t even know because my mom packed me a lunch every day in elementary school, and 98% of middle school. Probably because I was (still am) a picky eater.
I do remember when I was in elementary school getting information on Summer Enrichment, a summer school of sorts that you only got to go to if you were part of the TAG (talented and gifted) or VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) programs.
Here I sit, typing this post on my own computer, glancing down at my iPhone, my graduation cap from my Masters hanging up behind me. It’s all a little surreal when you think about it. My mom always put an emphasis on school, good grades, and college. There was never any doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t go to to college.
But what if I didn’t have a supportive mom that pushed me and believed in me more than I believed in myself? Who would I have had? The answer… my teachers. Maybe they did know I was part of the free and reduced lunch program, maybe they didn’t. But I never felt like they did.
They didn’t use it as an excuse as to why they couldn’t teach me. Why I couldn’t learn. Why I didn’t have good grades. Why I didn’t speak properly. Why I didn’t have clean clothes. Why I couldn’t buy books at the book fair. Why I didn’t have a Halloween costume. Why I was the only kid in class without Valentines. Why I didn’t give them a gift at the holidays. Why I didn’t come to family nights. Why I didn’t share about my summer vacation, because I didn’t go anywhere.
They just taught me. They just believed in me. They just loved me.
I say all of this, because I’m now a teacher at the same elementary school I attended with a high percentage of students on free and reduced lunch, and I hear some of these excuses. I can’t help but to think about if my participation of that program had my teachers ever questioning me as a learner.
When she isn’t in the classroom, she enjoys spending time with her husband, family, including her 2 rescue dogs, Maxwell and Foster, and working on her small businesses Miss Johnston’s Journey and L. Paull Designs for All, a custom apparel and gifts online store for mostly teachers. She is also a strong advocate for mental health as she shares her struggles of anxiety and mild depression. She started a hashtag on Instagram, #okayteacher, for other teachers who struggle with mental health and just not feeling good enough about themselves as a teacher to share their own story and to connect with one another so they don’t feel alone.