Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Students Too Hungry to Learn: A Challenge We Can Solve

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By Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association, and Billy Shore, Founder and CEO, Share Our Strength

Hunger can be found in every corner of the country, affecting one in five children, and this problem often plays out in the classroom. Hungry children struggle to concentrate in class, visit the school nurse with daily headaches and stomach aches, and may act out because they are hungry.

In fact, problems are so severe that a new study shows that teachers spent $37 a month buying food for hungry students, up from $26 a month in 2012.

Share Our Strength’s annual nationwide poll of K-8 public school staff finds that three out of four teachers and principals reported students regularly coming to school hungry. Half of teachers surveyed say hungry children in their classroom is a serious issue, the highest level measured in the four years of conducting this research.

Educators see the issue of hunger as a priority and about one out of two teachers and principals are willing to advocate for breakfast legislation to increase access to the morning meal.

We know that hungry children can’t learn. They feel sick, get distracted and start to fall behind. We need to rally together to end child hunger.

Fortunately, we know that a critical ingredient to ending child hunger is already in place; school breakfast. Share Our Strength and the National Education Association’s Health Information Network (NEA HIN) have a goal this coming school year to increase the number of students participating in the federally-funded School Breakfast Program through promoting alternative breakfast models like Breakfast in the Classroom.

Breakfast in the Classroom works by targeting two key obstacles that keep kids missing out on breakfast: timing and the stigma associated with eating breakfast at school. Only half of all students eligible for free and reduced-price breakfast actually eat their morning meal, which leaves out about 11 million students who start every day hungry.

Traditionally schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before class begins. Moving breakfast “after the bell” can make it easier for students to get a nutritional start to their day. Kids don’t feel different and singled out. Teachers and principals who have breakfast in the classroom report improved student alertness (76%), better attendance (57%), fewer disciplinary problems (54%), fewer visits to the school nurse (55%) and fewer tardy students (49%). More than half of teachers experienced behavior and health improvements in students since implementing the program. And these are benefits that accrue to an entire school community, not just children in need.

There is also an academic benefit to rethinking school breakfast to make sure more students are in the pipeline. Previous research conducted by Deloitte and released by Share Our Strength shows that, on average, students who eat school breakfast achieve 17.5% higher scores on standardized math tests, attend 1.5 more days of school per year. Students who attend class more regularly are 20% more likely to graduate from high school.

We know child hunger is an education issue that together we can solve. To help in this effort, NEA HIN and the No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices have created the Start School with Breakfast online toolkit that guides schools on how to rethink school breakfast, step-by-step, with tips and tools. Learn more at NoKidHungry.org/BreakfastToolkit.

If we want our students to succeed in the classroom, we have to make certain they start the day with a full stomach so they are ready to learn. By rethinking school breakfast, we can set our students on a higher achieving path and make no kid hungry a reality.

Originally Published By GOOD.