This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Kennysha Stanley, a 10th grader at Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia, was in her fourth-period art class last week when the school principal, Richard Gordon, came into the classroom and said he needed to talk with her.
“He says to come to the center of the classroom, and all these people started coming in with cameras and balloons,” she said. “I saw he had a certificate in his hand, and he awarded me with the Breakfast Hero Award.”
Each year, the national anti-hunger campaign No Kid Hungry seeks nominations of people in the community who go above and beyond to support school breakfast programs. This year’s Pennsylvania awardees include educators, administrators, service staff, and one exceptional student: Kennysha Stanley.
Stanley, 15, is a program coordinator at Rebel Ventures, a local nonprofit food business run by high school students with guidance from community mentors. Their main product is the Rebel Crumble, a nutritious breakfast bar, which is distributed in every Philadelphia District school and multiple charter schools and is sold at some local grocery stores.
Stanley is passionate about Rebel’s mission. “We thought about the kids that were coming from food-insecure homes,” she said. “As a child coming into school hungry, the Rebel Crumble can serve as a full meal to fuel them through the day.”
This partnership with the School District not only provides students with a healthy breakfast or lunch option, but also funds jobs for Philadelphia high school students. Jarrett Stein, co-executive director of Rebel Ventures, notes that students are centrally employed in every step of the management process from creating and testing new recipes to designing and implementing new marketing campaigns.
Stanley joined Rebel Ventures in the summer of 2018 as she was preparing to start high school and signed up to be head of school programs. She was assigned the daunting task of planning and executing a new program, Rebel Champs.
Other members of Rebel Ventures estimated it would take her about three years to get the Rebel Champs program, which recruits students to promote breakfast and lunch participation in their schools, up and running. She designed and implemented it in one year.
The program also asks students to give out samples and record data to improve marketing within schools. Stanley has served as the head of the Rebel Champs program at her own school during the 2019-20 pilot year. “Before the Rebel Champs program, a lot of students didn’t know about Rebel Ventures,” she said. “But after I started doing sampling, a lot of students started taking the crumble for breakfast and showing interest in Rebel Ventures.”
Stanley provides students wanting to start a Rebel Champs program at their school with all the information they need and also processes the data they send back to her. The team at Rebel Ventures uses the information to improve production and distribution.
Next school year, Stanley will hand over leadership of Rebel Champs at Paul Robeson to her classmate Morgan Eason, so she can focus on overseeing the overall program as it continues expanding into more schools.
“The thing that I like about Rebel is that I get to learn and have fun at the same time,” she said. “I feel like Rebel is not just a job for me. … It’s so much more than just getting paid. Every day I feel like I learn something that I can take with me through life.”
Co-executive director Jarrett Stein, in particular, has been an important mentor to her.
“Jarrett always tells me that there is nothing I can’t do. … He’s been with me through all the ups and downs with Rebel Champs,” she said.
It was Stein, in collaboration with the other community mentors at Rebel Ventures, who decided to nominate Stanley for the Breakfast Hero Award. He said they chose her because of “her incredible work on the Rebel Champs project and how she can work after school at Rebel as well as connecting with her peers at school and making it part of her education. … It is inspiring to work next to her.”
Stanley said her work at Rebel Ventures has encouraged her to pursue a career as an entrepreneur – and as a Rebel, she is well on her way.
“I like that we are changing the way people think about kids, because I strongly feel like people tend to think that kids can’t do things because of their age,” she said. “We are kids helping kids and creating job opportunities for other kids, as well as adults.”