“It’s obvious that demographics are changing within our school district and our state; this is a state that has a lot of families in need. School districts must prioritize building relationships of trust in their schools, otherwise you’re shooting in the dark as far as meeting needs,” said Superintendent Joe Siano.
Emphasizing the danger of making generalizations or assumptions based on statistics, Siano said child hunger in Norman fluctuates with rises and falls in the economy and employment opportunities, and is not specific to poor parenting.
“From an administrative standpoint, communities go through cycles of up and down which are economically driven. My experience is, regardless of socioeconomic standing, parents want to do the best for their kids and face challenges in meeting needs with this up and down,” Siano said. “What I’ve seen in Norman is that during the last 10 years, people providing services through United Way are now needing to receive them.”
Numbers may be helpful in gaining a big picture perspective, Siano said, but can ultimately cloud one’s judgment in unique and sensitive situations.
“You can’t make broad generalizations about kids and families based on statistics because you start going down an inappropriate path,” Siano said. “Teachers must address issues where they see them, and we as a community must be aware of kids’ needs and not make assumptions.”
NPS Director of Counseling Sharon Heatly said many teachers are doing just that by keeping snacks in their classrooms for students who seem to be having difficulty in class due to hunger.
“Teachers may be the first to notice that a child is hungry, and those who exhibit signs of hunger consistently will be sent to the nurse or counselor, who will in turn contact the family with information on the services available,” Heatly said. “It’s a fluid process based on the needs of each child and their family.”