A guest blog by Dennis Van Roekel, National Education Association
I remember the students who came to my class without eating breakfast. They were tired, unable to concentrate and always asking to visit the nurse’s office. These children thought more of their next meal than geometry or algebra. As a former math teacher with 23 years in the classroom, I have seen too many children struggle because of hunger. As president of the National Education Association, I hear from teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other school employees who see the faces of malnourished children every day and cannot stand idle.
No child deserves to go hungry. At the start of this school year, I challenged us as a nation to tackle the scourge of child hunger. Over 16 million children are food insecure. That’s more than 1 in 5 children in the United States who do not have access to adequate, nutritious food. National School Breakfast Week (March 4-8) is a good time to remind people that child hunger exists and is a solvable problem – if we work together.
The NEA Health Information Network and School Nutrition Foundation along with the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom are making inroads by working to end hunger in schools across the country. These groups are modifying the federally-funded School Breakfast Program to provide breakfast to students in their classrooms at the start of the school day. To date, Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) has enabled over 70,000 students to reap the benefits associated with the most important meal of the day. The program is successful because everyone in the school building is united under a shared goal: changing the lives of students affected by hunger.
Research shows that students who eat school breakfast attend 1.5 more days of school per year and achieve a whopping 17.5 percent higher score in math, according to a new report from Share Our Strength. This report also found that students who attend class regularly have a 20 percent higher rate of graduating high school, which translates into higher wages and higher employment. Good nutrition is an integral part of a child’s overall success. This report provides further proof of the undeniable connection between good health and learning.
Fighting child hunger requires a holistic approach, from support programs like BIC and sharing resources that increase knowledge about this issue, to protecting federal food assistance services like the School Breakfast Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These nutrition and safety net programs are vital to our children’s future, and we cannot afford to lose them as Congress hammers out a solution to budget-slashing “sequestration” cuts.
The political issues being debated on Capitol Hill can be complex; the solution to hunger is not. NEA is proud to support initiatives that increase student participation in school breakfast, because our children are counting on us.
Dennis Van Roekel is president of the National Education Association.