Why teens need to learn to shop when they receive free lunch

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LA Johnson/NPR

The free- and reduced-price lunch (FRPL) program is a federal initiative that provides free- and reduced-price lunch (FRPL) program is a federal initiative that provides free or inexpensive lunches to children from low-income families. Students must demonstrate eligibility to participate, and schools receive cash subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for the food.

Recently, there have been more debates about free and reduced lunch being a proxy for poverty. According to the National School Lunch Program, “To qualify for the school lunch program, families have to be at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level — which calculates out to about $44,000 for a family of four.” Just because you receive a free or reduced lunch does not mean you are living in poverty.  However, many that receive this service are living in low income neighborhoods.

Teaching at a title-one school, has given me insight into the lives of students who  live in low income areas. Students raised in poverty are especially subject to stressors that undermine school behavior and performance. It also plays an important role in shaping financial behaviors and attitudes towards money. Some students have very strict saving habits that prevent them from overspending, while other students have the mindset to spend more often than they save, which ultimately keeps them in a endless cycle of poverty.

Poverty is a state of mind that can be removed with pursuit of education, however, obtaining a degree is only half the battle. If productive spending habits aren’t  formed when there is little, it makes it even more difficult when there is more. When educating youth on spending, especially one living in poverty, it is important to teach financial stability. Students need to understand that poverty can become a cycle and once you have acquired the necessary tools to emerge from poverty you have to protect your progress.

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