"The saddest are the children who cry when we get out early for a snow day because they won't get lunch."
WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As students across Colorado prepare to go back to school this fall, many families are still feeling the sting of unemployment, rising food and fuel prices and a sluggish economic recovery. Teachers are first-hand witnesses to the toll hunger takes on our students. According to a new national survey released today by Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, teachers are worried that hunger is stunting the learning process. They also point to a healthy school breakfast as key to a good education.
The survey, "Hunger In Our Schools: Share Our Strength's Teachers Report 2012," was conducted among more than 1,000 K-8 public school teachers nationwide. Three out of five teachers surveyed report that they see students regularly come to school hungry because they're not getting enough to eat at home. A majority of these teachers who witness hunger say the problem is getting worse.
An oversampling of Colorado teachers finds that they report hunger in the classroom is a big problem in the state with three out of five Colorado teachers (59%) saying they have students who regularly come to school hungry.
"I have had students who have come to school with lunch the previous day having been their last meal," said Julie Fahey, Principal and former teacher, Queen Palmer Elementary in Colorado Springs, CO. "Hungry students simply can't focus and learn."
"When students are hungry and distracted, they're not learning," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "To set kids up for academic success, we must make sure they're getting the healthy food they need at breakfast and lunch so they can concentrate in the classroom throughout the day."
Overwhelmingly, teachers say students have trouble learning when they're focused on their empty stomachs. Hungry students, they say, lack concentration and struggle with poor academic performance, behavior problems and health issues.
"Access to healthy food is the number one school supply students need to succeed in the classroom this fall," said Tom Nelson, President of Share Our Strength. "Kids can't concentrate on reading and math when they're focused on their growling stomachs. If we want our youngest generation to grow up smarter, healthier and stronger, we need to make sure they get the healthy food they need every day."
School meals play an important role in making sure that, even in tough times, kids still get the healthy food they need. Nine out of 10 teachers agree that school breakfast is especially important for academic achievement. Teachers credit breakfast with increased concentration (95%), better academic performance (89%) and better behavior in the classroom (73%). Health is also a major factor, with four in five saying breakfast prevents head and stomachaches, leading to healthier students. Teachers also say that students who eat breakfast are less likely to be tardy or absent (56%).
"No child's health should be compromised because they haven't had enough to eat," said U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Janey Thornton. "USDA school nutrition programs – such as the school breakfast and school lunch programs – help ensure our children start their day with a nutritious meal, so they can learn, grow, and reach their full potential. This year, I am proud to announce that school meals are even healthier thanks to historic improvements made through the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act."
Yet too many eligible kids are missing out on this critical meal. According to the Colorado Department of Education, of the more than 217,000 low-income students in Colorado who ate free or reduced-price lunch a day in school year 2010-2011, only 87,000 participated in the School Breakfast Program. The Colorado No Kid Hungry campaign, a partnership between Hunger Free Colorado, Share Our Strength, and the Office of Governor John Hickenlooper, helps get nutritious food to kids in need, working with schools and communities to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program by implementing innovative service models that make breakfast a part of the school's morning routine.
Findings in Colorado show that local teachers are more likely to favor providing school breakfast to all students as part of the solution to solving hunger in the classroom (69% in Colorado vs. 58% nationally). Colorado teachers also have more positive experiences with programs that make breakfast easier for students to receive, such as Breakfast in the Classroom, and are less likely to consider such service models messy or logistically challenging.
"School breakfast programs can be accessible to all students by bringing breakfast into the classroom and making it easy for students to get a morning meal," said Kathy Underhill, Executive Director for Hunger Free Colorado. "We're connecting with principals, teachers, local nutrition directors, parents and students to increase participation through the expanded use of innovative serving methods by nearly 5,216 free and reduced-priced students and a minimum of 85 schools in Colorado."
"Stories from teachers across the country about kids experiencing hunger are real, compelling and are all-too commonplace. The third edition of this report provides important data behind the anecdotes," said Gina Goff from C&S Wholesale Grocers. "We know that the report is a key part of the No Kid Hungry campaign and that it will jumpstart conversations about solutions to ending childhood hunger."
Key findings from the research include the following:
- Childhood Hunger Remains A Serious Issue. Three out of five teachers say kids in their classrooms regularly come to school hungry. Among those teachers, 80% say these kids come to school hungry at least once a week. Three out of four teachers (77%) say addressing childhood hunger must be a national priority.
- The Problem Is Growing. A majority of teachers (56%) who witness childhood hunger say the problem is getting worse. Locally, 51% of Colorado teachers surveyed said the problem is getting worse.
- School Meals Are A Critical Safety Net. In the survey, a majority of teachers (56%) say "a lot" or "most" of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition. In Colorado, 53% of teachers say "a lot" or "most" of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.
- Teachers Are Taking Action. Most commonly, teachers assist families in enrolling in school meal programs (71%), refer families to resources in the school (54%) and spend money out of their own pockets to buy food for hungry students (53%). On average, teachers who buy food for hungry kids in their classrooms spend $26 a month.
- Teachers Say: Breakfast Works. Nine out of 10 teachers say breakfast is very important for academic achievement. Teachers credit breakfast with increased concentration (95%), better academic performance (89%) and better behavior in the classroom (73%). Health is also a major factor, with eight in ten saying breakfast prevents head and stomachaches, leading to healthier students. Teachers also say that, thanks to breakfast, students are less likely to be tardy or absent (56%).
- Too Many Kids Miss Out On Breakfast: Teachers site timing and stigma as two barriers to participation. Some kids miss out on the meals because they get to school too late to eat (74%). Others are embarrassed and don't want to be singled out as the low-income kids eating in the cafeteria (33%). Teachers say that sometimes the problem is simply that parents aren't aware the program exists (35%).
- Childhood Hunger Is Solvable: The most popular solution was to increase communication with parents about the school meals that are available (75%). Other ideas include reducing the red tape that limits participation (61%) and decreasing stigma by making free breakfast available to all students, not just those with low incomes (58%).
The survey is available at NoKidHungry.org/Teachers.
Learn more about Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Campaign at NoKidHungry.org.
Learn more about the Colorado No Kid Hungry campaign at NoKidHungry.org/Colorado.
Learn more about C&S Wholesale Grocers at www.cswg.com.
B-Roll Package: http://nokidhungry.org/VIDEO/sos-broll-package-mov-hires.zip
Full Report and Infographic: NoKidHungry.org/Teachers
SOURCE Share Our Strength