Third-grader Ryan Kyote knew that being a kid is exhausting! Not only are you stuck in school for what seems like forever, but you’ve got to deal with teasing and bullying at the hands of your peers for things totally out of your control.
Ryan noticed some of his classmates were struggling with something out of their hands. But while most kids would be fine sitting back and letting their classmates deal with it on their own, Ryan decided to step up and do something extraordinary.
Ryan Kyote seems like your average third grader: he enjoys cooking with his mom, spending time with his friends, and playing sports. But recently, Ryan made a big choice that got some serious national attention.
See, Ryan’s not afraid to try new things and take a big risk from time to time. He even joined the Napa Valley Ballet Academy! So when Ryan learned something troubling about some of his classmates, he took action.
It all started when Ryan saw a news report about a girl who was denied a school lunch because her parents hadn’t paid off the entire lunch debt. That didn’t sit so well with him.
Ryan’s mom Kylie remembered what he told her then: “He said, ‘Nobody should have to buy their lunch at school. We should just have lunch together, because we’re friends and that’s what we do.'”
So Kylie called up his school to figure out what their policy was for students whose families’ couldn’t afford their school lunches. The answer took her by surprise.
“Unbeknownst to the parents, they get a bill sent home to them,” said Kylie. “I mean, imagine a 5-year-old coming home with a bill in their backpack for $500.” Ryan wouldn’t stand for that.
Ryan wanted to know how much students in his own class owed in school lunch debt. In his class, kids owed $74.50, but in the entire school district, there was an outstanding balance of over $20,000! Families were struggling, so Ryan made a bold choice.
He went right up to his room, collected all his hard-earned allowance money from the past six months and told his mother he wanted to pay off the $74.50 of debt for the kids in his class. Kylie was stunned.
“He used his money to pay the debt, and the office was really confused about what was going on,” Kylie remembered. “We explained the story and they happily took the donation.”
“He told the school secretary, ‘Can you please tell my friends’ families that they don’t owe any money for lunch,'” Kylie said. ” School officials shared her amazement.
In fact, the principal of Ryan’s school was impressed with his desire to help his classmates. “It’s a wonderful way of thinking about other people,” said Principal Amye Scott. “I’m proud to have him as a student.” Still, Kylie knew his donation would come with complications.
Kylie herself was so floored by Ryan’s selflessness that she nearly cried! But even though she was enormously proud of her son, Ryan didn’t want anyone to know about the gesture in case they felt ashamed.
Ryan preferred to remain anonymous, but Kylie wanted everyone to know just how thoughtful her son was. She posted about Ryan’s gesture on social media and local news quickly picked up the story. In just days, it was a viral sensation.
While he’s happy about the positive response, Ryan knows there’s more work to be done. Many critics pointed out that while gestures like Ryan’s are touching, it’s a result of a larger problem that’s leaving students in debt in the first place.
The problem has gotten a lot of national attention recently, like in the Warwick Public School District where kids aren’t allowed a hot lunch if they’ve accrued debt. But, much like Ryan, one woman decided to take action.
Angelica Penta is a parent in the district and was tired of kids being shamed for not being able to afford a school lunch and decided to do something. She got to work and raised over $4,000 to pay off the debts, but when she got to the school, she was met with a surprise.
Unlike in Ryan’s case, Angelica’s donation was denied. She was astounded by the school’s callousness: “There is no need for any child to be denied a hot lunch,” she wrote. “We never know a child’s or their families’ situation, everyone struggles at some point.”
Once the news got wind of what was happening, the story blew up online — even the CEO of Chobani issued a statement! The school quickly reversed their policy, but Ryan knows that’s only a small part of the problem.
Thankfully, because Ryan made these students’ voices heard, politicians started to take notice. Senator Tina Smith and Representative Ilhan Omar even introduced a bill that would make it illegal to shame students for accruing school lunch debt!
Ryan knows the fight has just begun and is hopeful for the future. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, look at what you can do.” Being able to afford the lunch offered by schools is just one problem people are facing. Mom Beth Paulette had to fight another type of battle when it came to lunch…
Virginia resident Beth Paulette lived a happy and peaceful life. She raised her sons in King and Queen County, where the boys also attended high school. Everything was business as usual… that is, until the day something strange started happening.
In 2015, out of nowhere, both of Beth’s sons both began coming down with absolutely awful headaches. These migraines went from happening only on occasion to being a daily nightmare. The boys would step off the school bus already in pain. Needless to say, Beth was deeply worried.
Paulette started researching migraines. She learned that they can be caused by all sorts of things, including fatigue, stress, and dehydration. However, from what Paulette could tell, none of these were to blame for her sons’ headaches.
That all changed when one of her sons sent her a text message from school. He included a photograph he’d taken of the food that the cafeteria was offering for lunch. Everything was so burnt it was practically unrecognizable!
When the boys returned home from school that day, Beth immediately asked them about their school’s lunch menu. She quickly learned that inedible offerings like the one they photographed earlier weren’t the exception—they were the rule.
Beth had no doubt that the poor food quality was causing her children’s illness. “They’re awful,” she said. “My two boys are coming home daily with migraines because they can’t eat what’s on their plates at school.”
According to the American Nutrition Association, something as simple as hunger can definitely cause migraines. Beth believed that substandard food was preventing her children from getting the nutrition they needed each day.
Low blood sugar (or hypoglycemia) is no laughing matter. In addition to causing migraines so severe they can leave a person actually feeling sick, low blood sugar means that your brain isn’t getting enough fuel to function the way it should.
If your blood sugar drops dramatically, the side effects can be even worse. Low blood sugar can lead to dizziness and confusion. In very serious cases without any sort of medical intervention, it can also lead to death.
This is one of the many reasons why it’s important, particularly for growing children, to eat three balanced meals a day. Beth’s boys weren’t getting that because of what was offered at school—so she decided to do something about it.
At first, Beth couldn’t find anyone to help her. That all changed when she finally enlisted the help of WTVR CBS 6, her local news affiliate. When they saw the photographs of the boys’ lunches, they were determined to help her make a real change.
The reporters began their own investigation, and they soon discovered that Beth and her boys weren’t the only ones with feelings about the terrible food being served at school. “It looked so unappetizing I could not bring myself to try it at all,” said another student, Precious Jackson.
It was critical that this problem was solved. In addition to causing migraines, hunger in students can make it very difficult, if not impossible, for them to concentrate and do to their best in the classroom. This food was hurting the students’ futures.
In order to bring better food into the cafeteria, the reporters had to speak with Dr. Stanley Jones. As the superintendent of King and Queen County Schools, it was Dr. Jones’s responsibility to make sure that the students were offered nutritious—and edible—meals.
When Dr. Jones was shown the photos of the terrible food, he was disgusted—but not surprised. He let the news team know that the head of the kitchen was suspended after several other complaints were filed. “If an employee is suspended, generally, it’s going to be related to performance,” he added.
However, the suspended employee in question, Suzanne Gilbertson, had her own take on the matter. “My cafeteria employees have always been told if you’re not going to eat it don’t serve it to the students,” she said.
Suzanne went on to say that, when she was suspended, she wasn’t even managing the high school cafeteria. She said that Dr. Jones hired someone new to do that, and this new employee definitely didn’t have the experience required. She told Dr. Jones she was concerned, and she claimed he simply ignored her.
In fact, when she kept questioning new issues, Suzanne said Dr. Jones verbally slapped her down. “I was advised that these employees, they do not report to me, as they report to human resources and the superintendent,” she revealed.
When asked to comment, Dr. Jones said that it was up to the cafeteria team to work together to best serve the children. With that in mind, he vowed that he would make sure that the kids were no longer served food that they could not eat.
While it remained unclear who was to blame for this burned food, thanks to the hard work of one mom and a team of news reporters, the kids at the local high school will finally have the food they need to get through each day!