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Graduate students working to keep children fed this summer


Garduate Summer Lunch

From left: TWU faculty member Gina Anderson and graduate students Nicole Saenz and Jessica Benyola get ready to serve lunches at the Village East Apartments in Denton.

Photo credit: Ronda DuTeil

DENTON — Several Texas Woman’s University graduate students are serving lunch to school-aged children in the Denton Summer Lunch Program as part of the TWU Diversity in the Classroom distance education course this summer.

Gina Anderson, who teaches the course, believes that having her students involved in this program as part of their classwork is unique because TWU is one of only a few universities in the nation – including Boston University and Radford University in Virginia – whose students are volunteering for a summer meal programs as part of their educational experience.

“Whenever you have the chance be more hands-on – to visit the actual homes of students we work with – you will become a better teacher, because you will have a better understanding of the complex issues that surround a child and can help them to be successful both in and out of school,” said Anderson, a TWU associate professor of teacher education.

Anderson has volunteered with St. Andrew Presbyterian Church to assist the City of Denton in serving summer lunches to children who qualify for free school lunches. Her TWU students have been involved with the program for the past year.

“I feel it is important for my students to see that we all are responsible for helping children continue to receive free and nutritious lunches during the summer months,” Anderson said. “It is a great experience for TWU students to partner with other community organizations and to interact with diverse school-aged children.”

She also said this involvement fits right in with TWU’s commitment to experiential learning.

A few days a week, TWU graduate students can be found serving lunches to school-aged children who live in the Village East Apartments, less than five miles away from the TWU Denton campus.

Jessica Benyola, a TWU student from Little Elm who’s pursing a master of arts in teaching, says, “Being a part of this program is reinforcing my belief that as a teacher you can help your students in many ways, including getting proper nutrition in the summer.”

Benyola plans to become a teacher for children who are in the hospital and can’t attend school.

“I’ve always had a heart for kids in hospitals,” Benyola said. “My undergraduate degree from TWU focused on child development, and with my master’s degree from the university, I can combine what I learned from both programs to become a liaison between a school district and sick children.”

Nicole Saenz, a TWU student from Forth Worth also is pursing a master of arts in teaching, says that any experience she can get with children will help her become a better teacher.

“This has been such a great experience, because the children I’ve met really seem to appreciate our interest in their lives outside of school,” she said.

Saenz currently works with special needs children as a teacher’s aide for the Lake Worth Independent School District. She wants to continue working with special needs children as a teacher who focuses on inclusion.

“Interacting with children from diverse backgrounds will help me be more effective in the classroom,” Saenz said.

Benyola and Saenz are students in TWU’s online master of arts in teaching program, which prepares individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree to earn a teacher certification and a master’s degree in teaching at the same time. For more information, visit

Media Contact:

Amanda Simpson
Director of Media Relations

page updated 5/9/2016 4:57 PM