BRISTOL, Va. — NBC’s “Today” show featured Highland View Elementary School’s food programs in a segment aired Tuesday morning.

“As you drive through the city of Bristol, downtown on State Street you see all of the beautiful architecture — what you don’t see is that families who work multiple jobs are raking and scraping to get by to feed their children,” Pam Davis-Vaught, Highland View's principal, said in the segment. “Childhood hunger is an epidemic; it’s a crisis.”

At her Bristol, Virginia school, 94.5% of students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals in 2018-19 — a figure that includes the Community Eligibility multiplier of 1.6 applied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

National anti-hunger nonprofit Share Our Strength recognized Davis-Vaught earlier this fall with its Educator of the Year award for her work addressing childhood hunger.

Highland View launched a “Breakfast After the Bell” program in 2014 and was the first in the Bristol Virginia school division to offer an alternative breakfast model to students. Davis-Vaught also built community partnerships to provide holiday and weekend backpack programs to help meet students’ nutritional needs when school is not in session.

The segment focused on the school’s efforts and included interviews with Davis-Vaught, as well as a fifth grade student named Dylan.

“The two people that I live with get paid every so often, and we don’t really have much money, so we don’t have much food,” said Dylan, who sat at a classroom table with three other students in the segment.

Davis-Vaught told “Today” that, since implementing the programs, the school has seen positive trends in reading, math and science data.

About 11 million children in the U.S., or one in seven, do not know where their next meal will come from, according to Feeding America.

“A child cannot learn, cannot function when their belly is growling. We’re not just talking about missing a meal — it’s the kind of hunger that seeps into your pores,” Davis-Vaught said.

She said her hope is for her students to come to school each day excited to learn.

“I want them to defeat generational poverty. I want them to be the difference-maker in other people’s lives,” she said. “These kids are champions.”

The segment was part of the “Today” show’s recognition of a Giving Tuesday campaign for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry initiative. | 276-645-2567 | Twitter: @Tim_Dodson

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