California Launches First Statewide Free School Lunch Program in U.S.

When California public schools reopened in fall 2021, all 6.2 million students had the option of free school meals, regardless of their family’s income. The undertaking is the largest free student lunch program in the country. School officials, lawmakers, anti-hunger organizations, and parents applaud it as a pioneering way to prevent the stigma of accepting free lunches and to feed more hungry children. “This is so historic. It’s beyond life-changing,” says Erin Primer, director of food services for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District on California’s central coast. Several U.S. cities already offer free school meals for all, but California is the first state to adopt a universal program.

Students Invent Wheelchair Stroller for Teacher’s Husband

To help Chelsie King, a new mother and middle school theatre teacher at Bullis School in Potomac, MD, and her husband, Jeremy, who has “significant balance issues” following surgery to remove a brain tumor, 10 high school students at the school developed two products that allow a person in a wheelchair to walk their child in a stroller. The first product, designed for newborns and small children, attaches a car seat to a wheelchair. The second, created for older children, uses 3D-printed equipment to attach a stroller to a wheelchair itself. The students created the products in an elective course, “Making for Social Good,” which focuses on designing products that benefit society at large. “This has been the most successful of the projects that we’ve done, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it was somebody in our community,” says instructor Matt Zigler. The class went on to win two awards at the 2021 Make:able 3D Printing Challenge.

Economists See Lost Earnings for Pandemic-Generation Students

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in its report, “COVID-19 School Closures: Long-run Macroeconomic effects,” warns that over the next 30 years, the COVID-related U.S. school closures—and the shift to virtual schooling—could massively impact national gross domestic product. The report states that the damage from reduced schooling could hurt productivity and shrink the U.S. economy 3.6% by 2050. The results will be even worse for workers’ personal earnings. The policy brief suggests extending the school year. Adding just one month of summer school will cost about $75 billion, but researchers note that the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill passed in March provides approximately $123 billion to K–12 public education, with about $22 billion already earmarked for summer school, extended school days, an extended school year, after-school programs, and “other enrichment.”

Virginia School Board Approves Rights Extension for Transgender, Gender-Expansive Students

In August 2021, a Virginia school board voted to expand the rights of transgender students, including access and inclusion in school facilities and groups. The Loudoun County School Board in Ashburn, VA, voted 7–2 on a policy that allows transgender student-athletes to play on teams and use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align to their gender identity. Teachers and staff are also required to call students by their chosen names and pronouns. “When transgender students are able to use the names and pronouns and access the school facilities that align with their gender identity, they’re able to stop worrying about harassment and focus on doing their best in school,” says GLSEN interim executive director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers.