Learning hungry

Earlier posts here have discussed how many university students come to class hungry. My university’s student newspaper, The Runner, notes today that almost two out of five “post-secondary students experienced some degree of food insecurity in the past year.”

I did not know until I read today’s article – University Students in Canada Still Struggle with Food Security: “Food insecurity directly affects academic standing in university students,” a study says – that the student association at Kwantlen Polytechnic University has a “food bank” program.

Piper Greekas is the KSA Student Services Manager and currently works with the KSA’s  food bank program. She says that she receives 10 to 15 requests for food per week, most of which are from students who use the service on a recurring basis.

The KSA food bank works like this: Students can send a request to the food bank and Greekas and her team start packing all of the food items into bags which are then distributed and placed inside of campus lockers for students to pick up.

The process is done anonymously so that students feel safe and comfortable when asking for food. Greekas says that two food packages can last for up to two weeks.

She explains that some students who apply for the program also have dependents, like children or spouses, who rely on the packages.

Meal Exchange is a program that focuses on helping campuses around Canada with issues regarding food insecurity among post-secondary students.

“Students get involved through our national programs supporting campus kitchens, gardens and farms, food banks, food sovereignty, and food procurement,” their website reads.

Naomi Robert is a research associate and part of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at KPU. She says that the reasons behind widespread food insecurity are quite complex, but more often than not, they’re tied to poverty.

I will be passing this information along to all of my students, in case they didn’t know about this important initiative already.

Open Learning

Some of my colleagues in the Applied Communications department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University have published an “open textbook” for people in our profession.

Student Engagement Activities for Business Communications is a compilation resource for instructors of workplace writing and oral presentations. The activities in this book can add value and energy to the classroom by engaging students in activities that support their learning. Handouts, links, activity variations, and debrief questions are included. …

As business communications instructors at the post-secondary level, we recognize the importance of student engagement and practical application to promote learning. This book is a compilation of activities that we have developed and use in our teaching practice.

Designed for new and experienced instructors, the book is divided by topic, and we have indicated a suggested course level (lower-level or upper-level undergraduate) for each activity. Some activities have handouts attached, or links to external websites.

The text “is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.”

In my years of teaching, I have used textbooks marketed by publishers, custom-created texts I’ve compiled from various sources, and materials I’ve created myself along with stuff my colleagues have let my students and me use – the latter because I wanted to save students money and because free handouts and slides addressed the curriculum sufficiently. I have also coauthored a textbook – one I’ve not, however, used myself in class, its intended audience being engineering students.

I must admit that I am sometimes ambivalent about one or two of the Open Learning movement‘s goals. I’ve been a professional writer, editor, and publisher most of my adult life. I revere publishers and editors and authors. Theirs are not lucrative professions, but I believe they should be paid for their work – a living wage, ideally. Moreover, in my experience the level of care given a published book by a large group of professionals – by authors, editors, marketers, proofreaders, legal staff, fact-checkers, researchers, and art directors – is hard to match using other modes.

That said, even in Canada the cost of postsecondary education is very high. Many students are suffering, having to choose between food and tuition. I know this first-hand. Giving students access to learning is our raison d’être.

Hunger in the classroom

When I used to teach writing in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Special Education Teacher Assistant (SETA) program*, on our first day of classes I would tell my students that I possessed nearly none of their ability to infer the emotional or psychological state of people around them. “Unless you are crying or bleeding, I have no idea that any of you are in trouble – that is, unless you explain that to me in sentences.”

Seeing traces of hurt, neglect, or psychological distress in people was normally beyond me – without verbal statements from them or from people who were helping them. Discerning what was going on with non-neurotypical learners in a K-12 classroom would have been an impossible riddle to me.

Most of my SETA students, though, had a double gift – of seeing “inside of people,” and of knowing how to communicate what they were seeing *to* these people. Over the course of many years, my students helped me to see and to hear a bit better. But I am still mostly blind and deaf.

In the last several months I have been humbled and indeed embarrassed by how insensible I still am. I simply did not know – it never would have occurred to me even to ask – how many of my students were hungry, chronically hungry.

From the Pacific Standard magazine:

Drawing on surveys conducted with over 167,000 students from 101 community colleges and 68 four-year colleges and universities, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice—a non-profit research organization focused on higher education and social policies—has documented rates of basic needs insecurity on campuses across 20 states. Sara Goldrick-Rab, the Hope Center’s founder and the study’s lead author, says that, while the data might not be nationally representative, “there are numbers now.”

Food is the most pervasive concern. In the 30 days preceding the survey, 48 percent of responding students claimed to have experienced food insecurity, defined in the report as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food in a socially acceptable manner.” Just over 50 percent of two-year college students and 44 percent of four-year college students “worried whether my food would run out before I got more money to buy more.” Around 30 percent for each group “was hungry but did not eat because there was not enough money for food.”

The vast majority of my students work one or more jobs to make ends meet – that I knew – but I never made the simple connection: What can students cut from their budgets, when they must? Food, of course.

* In composing this post I learned that the SETA program at Kwantlen is now called the Education Assistant program and that special education assistants are now described as education assistants. I imagine that the debate concerning this change in nomenclature might have been fraught.

Ricotta / Ree-goat


Many Italian Americans pronounce cucumber – “cetriolo” in the Italian dictionary – this way: ‘jadrool’.

In Fairport, New York, where I grew up, there were lots of Italian American families, and I had many Italian American friends (still do). I married an Italian American from Liverpool, New York, and have a son from this marriage who, though he is only *half* Italian American, regards himself as *almost completely* Italian American. I noticed the way my friends and my (then) in-laws and wife pronounced words for food dishes did not correspond (to my ear) to either the spelling or the pronunciations provided in my fat dictionary. Writer Dan Nosovitz of AtlasObsucra.com explains why, in How Capicola Became Gabagool: The Italian New Jersey Accent, Explained:

Let’s do a fun experiment and take three separate linguistic trends from southern Italian dialects and combine them all to show how one Standard Italian word can be so thoroughly mangled in the U.S.

First: “The features that you’ll find across a lot of these dialects, and one that you still hear a lot in southern Italy today, is vowels at the ends of words are pronounced very very softly, and usually as more of an ‘uh’ vowel,” says Olivo-Shaw. D’Imperio is a little more extreme, calling it “vowel deletion.” Basically: if the final syllable is a vowel? You can get rid of it. Vowel deletion is common amongst many languages, and is done for the same reason that, sometimes, vowels are added: to make the flow from one word to another more seamless. It’s easiest, in terms of muscle movement, to transition from a vowel to a consonant and vice versa. A vowel to a vowel is difficult; in English, that’s why we have “a” versus “an” in phrases like “a potato” or “an apple.” Some Italian words that would follow food words, like prepositions or articles, would start with a vowel, and it’s easier to just remove it so you don’t have to do the vowel-to-vowel transition.

The stereotypical Italian “It’s a-me, Mario!” addition of a vowel is done for the same reason: Italian is a very fluid, musical language, and Italian speakers will try to eliminate the awkwardness of going consonant-to-consonant. So they’ll just add in a generic vowel sound—”ah” or “uh”—between consonants, to make it flow better.

Second: “A lot of the ‘o’ sounds will be, as we call it in linguistics, raised, so it’ll be pronounced more like ‘ooh’,” says Olivo-Shaw. Got it: O=Ooh.

And third: “A lot of what we call the voiceless consonants, like a ‘k’ sound, will be pronounced as a voiced consonant,” says Olivo-Shaw. This is a tricky one to explain, but basically the difference between a voiced and a voiceless consonant can be felt if you place your fingers over your Adam’s apple and say as short of a sound with that consonant as you can. A voiced consonant will cause a vibration, and voiceless will not. So like, when you try to just make a “g” sound, it’ll come out as “guh.” But a “k” sound can be made without using your vocal cords at all, preventing a vibration. So “k” would be voiceless, and “g” would be voiced. Try it! It’s fun.

Okay so, we’ve got three linguistic quirks common to most of the southern Italian ancient languages. Now try to pronounce “capicola.”

The “c” sounds, which are really “k” sounds, become voiced, so they turn into “g”. Do the same with the “p”; that’s a voiceless consonant, and we want voiced ones, so change that to a “b”. The second-to-last vowel, an “oh” sound, gets raised, so change that to an “ooh.” And toss out the last syllable. It’s just a vowel, who needs it? Now try again.

Yeah. Gabagool.

My Central New York State friends and family didn’t share the famously distinctive accents of their New Jersey brethren, but they did pronounce “Prosciutto” like this: “pruh-zhoot” (or “bruh-zhoot,” beginning with the voiced consonant).

P.S. – A “jadrool,” you should know, can mean moron as well as “cucumber.”

h/t BD