Two recent reports highlight a sobering fact about the nation’s children as they return to school: too many of them are arriving without access to enough healthy food. According to the 2013 Hunger in our Schools survey by Share Our Strength, seventy-three percent of educators teach students who regularly come to school hungry due to lack of food at home. Half say hunger in the classroom is a serious issue. Not surprisingly, educators and principals often spend their own cash to try to alleviate this problem. On average, teachers spend $37 a month and principals spend $59 a month for food for their students. Share Our Strength surveyed 1,000 public school teachers and principals.
Educators have long known that hunger is a major detriment to student learning, in addition to the obvious devastating consequences to their health and development.
“As an elementary school teacher, I can assure you that I had students who came into my classroom without having eaten anything since lunch the previous day,” Princess Moss, an elementary school teacher from Virginia and a member of the National Education Association’s Executive Committee said. “Child hunger is a serious problem that negatively affected my student’s self-esteem, ability to learn, and behavior. I would always keep snacks in my class for students that were hungry and who were having trouble concentrating during instructional time.”
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released data that shows nearly 16 million children in the nation struggle with hunger. Roughly 17.6 million households are “food insecure,” or have difficulty at some point in the year providing enough food for all family members. Children were food insecure at various times during the year in 10 percent of households with children and 3.9 million households were unable to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children.
Share Our Strength and many other organizations, including the National Education Association’s Health Information Network, are avid supporters of school breakfast programs, which, research clearly shows, have a major impact on improving student achievement. According to the Share Our Strength survey, nine in 10 educators said breakfast was the “key to turning the tides on hunger and achievement.”
One such program is Breakfast in the Classroom, a $5 million initiative launched in 2011 by NEA HIN in partnership with the Food Research and Action Center, National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, and the School Nutrition Foundation, that aims to increase breakfast consumption among schoolchildren.
“Pioneering community leaders around the country have dared to reimagine our current, ineffective model that breakfast must be served before school, in a cafeteria that isolates kids in need from those who are not,” explains Bill Shore, founder and CEO of Share Our Strength. “Instead these leaders have implemented an after the bell, breakfast in the classroom model that’s effectively connecting kids to healthy meals, improving academic achievement, and stressing social inclusion. It’s a model that deserves to be reimagined nationally.”
Check out “Start School with Breakfast: A Guide to Increasing School Breakfast Participation” a resource from NEA HIN and Share Our Strength