Ryan Kyote may be only 9 years old, but he doesn’t like to hear about kids going hungry.
Kyote, a third-grader at West Park Elementary School, recalled watching a recent news story about a student who was reportedly turned away from buying hot lunch because his or her food service account balance was too low.
This didn’t sit right with Ryan.
“I felt bad for all the kids that didn’t have any lunch,” Ryan said during an interview before the end of the school year. “It’s not fair,” he said.
“He was really upset about it,” said his mother Kylie Kirkpatrick. “I asked him, ‘What do you want to do about it?’”
Make sure that didn’t happen at his school.
Ryan didn’t realize that a California law prevents such “lunch shaming.” And within the Napa Valley Unified School District, students don’t go hungry. Those who have a negative food service balance still receive a hot lunch.
“We never want to send a child away without a lunch regardless of their ability to pay,” said Stacy Rollo, a NVUSD spokeswoman.
Regardless, Ryan decided he’d like to pay off the food service balance owed by his fellow students at West Park School.
“I thought it was a cool idea,” said Kirkpatrick. No kid should come to school unsure whether he or she will get to eat breakfast or lunch.
The mom and son emailed the NVUSD food service department to determine the amount owed.
Depending on income, NVUSD elementary schools students pay either 30 cents or $1.25 for breakfast or 40 cents or $3.25 for lunch.
It turns out the balance for all of West Park School was about $700, said Kirkpatrick.
That gave her pause. Such an amount “is not in our budget,” said the single mother.
What about the third grade balance? she asked.
That was a more manageable amount: $74.80.
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“That’s a number we can handle,” she said.
Ryan took the funds from his savings account, and on May 24, he went down to the district office on Jefferson Street and paid it off.
The staff was a bit surprised but gladly accepted his payment, said Kirkpatrick.
“This was a very considerate and special donation and the district applauds the efforts of the student who has shown compassion to his school and fellow classmates,” said Rollo.
Kirkpatrick took pictures of her son that day, holding the receipt for his payment. She’s proud of her son.
Described as a social butterfly who likes to make friends, Ryan is also involved with activities such as football, basketball, BMX and club soccer.
He’s not afraid to try new things – for example joining the Napa Valley Ballet Academy where he recently appeared in a performance titled “Dreaming with Mozart.”
In 2018 Ryan asked to change his last name to something that more accurately identified his multi-cultural heritage. Borrowing from the South Korean and Ghanian cultures on Ryan’s paternal side he created the last name Kyote, pronounced “coyote.”
Her son has a big heart, his mother said. “I want him to give back.” Their idea to pay off the food service balance might even inspire other classes or schools to do the same, she said.
“We can make a difference,” said Kirkpatrick.
West Park School Principal Amye Scott recognized Ryan’s gesture.
“It’s a wonderful way of thinking about other people. I’m proud to have him as a student.”
Rollo said the current outstanding food service balance for all NVUSD schools is estimated to be $20,000 to $25,000.
Until the school fiscal year ends on June 30, parents still have the opportunity to pay off their food service balance, said Rollo. After that, the district absorbs the remainder.
Editor's note: U.S. Senator Kamala Harris recently met Ryan at a Pride event in San Francisco and showcased his story on Twitter on July 3.