Child Hunger in Schools a Growing Problem

Every day in classrooms nationwide, students struggle to concentrate or lose valuable instruction time on visits to the school nurse with headaches and stomach aches. Share Our Strength, an organization that aims to end childhood hunger nationwide by providing effective nutrition programs in schools, says hunger is at fault.

At a at a panel discussion at Northwestern High School in Maryland on Thursday, Share Our Strength President Tom Nelson joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to discuss childhood hunger, the overall importance of school breakfast programs, and the findings in Share Our Strength’s third annual Teacher’s Report, a nationwide poll of more than 1,000 K-8 public school teachers.

“What do parents tell their kids on the first day of school – stay out of trouble, do your homework, and listen to your teachers,” Nelson said. “That’s our message today: listen to your teachers. What are they telling us? Hunger needs to be a national priority.”

One in five children struggle with hunger nationwide and six out of ten teachers report students regularly coming to school hungry.

According to 80 percent of those teachers, the problem is only getting worse.

Educators realize the toll hunger takes on students. Nine in ten teachers consider breakfast to be “extremely important” to academic achievement. Fifty-three percent of teachers spend an average $26 of their own money each month providing snacks for their students.

NEA’s Health Information Network announced Wednesday it will continue working with Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom to create breakfast programs in 10 more districts this coming school year. The Breakfast in the Classroom initiative works to feed students by targeting two key obstacles that keep kids missing out on breakfast: timing and the stigma associated with eating breakfast at school. Less than half of all students eligible for free and reduced breakfast actually eat their morning meal, which leaves out over 10 million students who might start every day hungry.

NEA HIN worked with Breakfast in the Classroom throughout the 2011-2012 school year in five districts throughout the country and was able to provide healthy breakfasts to over 10,000 additional students daily.

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign director Anne Sheridan said the goal this coming school year is to feed 24,000 additional students.

Nora Howley of NEA HIN said the network realized the importance of closing that gap and works with Breakfast in the Classroom to offer meals to all students after class has started. Therefore, showing up early isn’t an issue and neither is being singled out.

“There is a difference between breakfast in class and breakfast in school,” Howley said. “There’s this huge gap of potentially hungry kids, and this is a way to expand participation after the bell.”

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Writing about child hunger on The Huffington Post, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said all teachers and education support professionals are aware of the crisis.

“We will continue to accelerate our work to educate the public about the prevalence and impact of hunger on America’s children. Until the scourge of child hunger in America ends, we all have a role to play to make sure children have the nutrition they need to do their best at school.”

At the discussion in Thursday, Nelson praised creative solutions to hunger in schools such as Breakfast in the Classroom and stressed the need for the government, school districts, parents, teachers, and students to take accountability and end childhood hunger.

“Hunger is a problem, and it’s getting worse,” he said. “But this is a problem we can solve.”