Published March 1978 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Learning To Do It Yourself How do you teach young people today to be self-sufficient? In a society which has come to depend more and more on federal and local governments, is it still possible for the individual to solve problems? The New York Times recently reported a situation which gives possible answers to those questions. In an account about a New Lebanon, New York, high school, a very encouraging and heart-warming story was told. The rural and largely middle-class school district faced an austere budget and difficult administrative problems in 1971, following the defeat of a proposed school bond. The principal of the combined junior and senior high school was informed that the situation would mean no sports, no library books, and no lunch program. Because of the requirement for matching funds, it also would mean a cut-off of the federal school lunch subsidy. Fortunately, for both the students and the school, the young principal, Gerald L. Blair, saw this unexpected cut-back as an opportunity. He decided to let the youngsters themselves solve the school lunch program. He saw this problem as an opportunity for "a unique and rewarding experience." He and a fellow teacher each put up $200 as seed money to begin an experiment in self-reliance. The students were recruited to plan, cook, and serve lunches. Prices were set by the students: low enough to be acceptable to most, but high enough to provide a very slight profit for reinvestment in the program. Today, the experiment is a successful educational program. Students who cannot afford to buy lunch, or who would rather use their money in some other way, can work for their meals. The young people who run the program are given academic credit for their work in a course called "Commercial Cooking." They are learning business procedures, self-discipline, and problem-solving. They are, and they should be, proud of what they have accomplished. They have more than repaid the trust and faith of their principal and teacher. In addition, they quickly repaid the dollars loaned to start the program, and have built a working inventory of equipment and foodstuffs.
Not every school district would want to use this program for school lunches. However, the basic concept of encouraging young people to provide a needed service to themselves and their fellow students through hard work and initiative is a good one, and the success of this program provides food for thought for all of us. March 8, 1978