The Prospect Hill Academy (PHA) Early Childhood Campus (grades K-3) serves a very diverse population. 85% of the students are non-white – 58% black or African American, 14% Hispanic/Latino, 6% Asian, 1% American Indian or Alaska Native, 1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Island, and 5% multi-racial. 52% list a language other than English as their primary/native language. This diversity of ethnicity, culture, language, and perspective creates a richness in our community that would be hard to find anywhere else.
With this richness comes challenges. Currently 71% of our students qualify for free or reduced school lunch. Free breakfast is offered to all, though many students arrive at school too late to receive it. And many arrive without a morning snack packed in their backpacks. In 2014, the school nurse estimated that she had 500 visits for head or stomach aches that were resolved by her providing food.
As a community, we decided to take steps to ensure that the children in our school no longer have to struggle to learn on an empty stomach. PHA THRIVE grew out of a grassroots volunteer effort by Prospect Hill Academy parents, staff and friends, and since February 2015 has been providing weekend food backpacks containing 2 meals a day for students who face food insecurity over weekends and school breaks. Prior to starting the backpack program, in October 2014 we started a partnership with Food for Free to provide fresh fruit snacks available throughout the school day. And starting in January 2016 we've added "Third Thursday" monthly community hot suppers through a partnership with Somerville's Community Cooks.
Our success has depended on close partnerships with organizations like Food for Free, Community Cooks, and Amigos, generous donations from parents and friends in the community, and a generous grant from MIT's Community Service Fund. In fact the Community Service Fund grant gave us the seed money that enabled us to raise matching funds, and double our impact. In this coming year, we hope to grow our program to expand into the PHA upper elementary grades (4-6).