As a teacher, Gabe Segal ’16 sees firsthand the importance of students receiving adequate, nutritious meals to fuel them through their lessons. The first question he asks a student who is having behavioral or academic issues is “Did you eat today?” He says many times the answer is no, and he sees this especially in lower socioeconomic student populations. One reason for this, he says, is that the student’s school meal debt for breakfasts and lunches is too high, and they’re choosing to forego eating as a way to help their family save money.
“It’s a basic right and something a lot of people don’t think about,” Segal says.
During the spring of 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Segal heard from many families who were struggling after losing their jobs and were anxious about what the future held. He used his stimulus check funds to pay off all families’ school meal debt at his school, Sleepy Hollow Elementary, in Falls Church, Va. He received many messages and emails from families who expressed their gratitude for having that burden relieved.
“I wanted to make a difference and tried to do something what would have an impact not just on one family but an entire community,” Segal says.
“Every kid is capable of success; it’s just trying to find what that kid needs,” Segal says. “This is not something that would just affect a few families but potentially thousands and millions of families.”
In October, Segal was recognized by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly for this humanitarian effort. And in September, Segal was a guest on the Live with Kelly and Mark show to talk about the importance of universal school meals and the impact food insecurity has on students and families. For his work, host Kelly Ripa announced Segal would receive a gift of $5,000 to further aid his fundraising efforts for school meal debt.
Segal, a health and physical education major and Teacher Education Program graduate, followed in the footsteps of both of his parents who were teachers in Herndon, Va., the same city where Segal now works as a special education teacher for both Herndon Middle School and Herndon High School. He says he values the close, familial relationships he had with his professors and fellow students at Bridgewater and is thankful he made connections that will last a lifetime.
“Just realizing the impact you can have is why I became a teacher,” Segal says. “Education is the most valuable thing in the world.”
— Jessica Luck