New Horizons High School
Educators Making a Difference
The tears come easily when teacher Jacqueline Brewster is asked what her school’s free food pantry means to the students of New Horizons High School.
“Unless you’ve seen it, it’s really hard to explain. If they need to choose between school or food, we’re not going to ask them to choose—they come to school. It’s such a huge impact.”
Previously known as Pasco Alternative High School, New Horizons serves 500 students who attend classes in person or virtually. Hunger impacts many of the teens, which inspired teachers and staff in 2010 to open a school food pantry.
“We can tell when our kids are hungry or are needing something. Sometimes they haven’t eaten because they came from work. If they worked from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and came into class with two hours of sleep, we can say, ‘Hey, what do you need?’ or ‘Have you eaten?’” Brewster explained. “We want to work on making sure they have something because when students haven’t eaten, we can see a change in them, which is why this started way back when.”
Regular deliveries from Second Harvest have been crucial in expanding the food pantry and ensuring that it remains fully stocked.
“It was tiny at first, and it fit into a small closet. Then we got the Second Harvest (partnership), and it took so much weight off of not knowing if we were going to have enough food or not,” Brewster said. “Second Harvest took away those fears. I know there’s always going to be food, and if we’re out we can work with Second Harvest to arrange another pickup.”
Rising From The Ashes
The mascot of New Horizons is a phoenix, and the school provides 42 support services to help students rise above the obstacles they’re facing. Some live on their own, work overnight jobs to help support their families, or have children. To foster success, the school provides everything from job training to counseling and community engagement opportunities.
Brewster manages the teen parent education program, which includes on-site child care run by the Boys & Girls Club. Juggling the rigors of school while working to pay for food, rent and other necessities is especially challenging for students and young parents.
“There’s just a lot of different dynamics that we have here,” Brewster shared. “We make sure the students’ children are taken care of until they hit kindergarten so they’re not ever without care.” The Boys & Girls Club provides food and formula for children. “We try to make sure that’s all covered for our students at all times. We make sure they know we’re here.”
The free school pantry helps fill gaps for kids and their families. “The food component, when it’s part of the community, that’s just one less thing they have to worry about. They know they’re not coming to school and going hungry,” said Brewster.
Prior to the pandemic-induced closure of the school, they’d fostered a community of sharing and normalizing visits to the food pantry. It’s a connection they’re working hard to rebuild as their student body grows.
Going The Extra Mile
A free phone app that protects students’ anonymity informs them of what food’s available, providing an easy way to place orders.
As Brewster explained, “Students or families can message us and say, ‘when is the next food delivery?’ or ‘I need another box.’ When we get shipments, we can send out pictures and say, ‘food’s here today.’”
Food boxes are available during normal school building operation hours (including summer), optional Saturday school sessions, and are delivered to student homes during summer break.
“We can drop off a box or they can come pick up a box and the families can join. Even if the students don’t tell them, the families can find out that we have the pantry.”
To serve more families in their community last year, the students of New Horizons hosted their first Second Harvest Mobile Market. Brewster said it was eye-opening and a source of pride for students.
“We started out as this tiny alternative school with the mentality of, ‘Oh, they’re an alternative school’ and now we’re just rocking it, and we have so many opportunities for them. I don’t know if we could keep some of the students that we have in school without helping them with the food or the diapers because they’d have to find it somewhere else.”