Northwestern Highlighted for Hunger Fight
Teachers say students are coming to school hungry, according to a new survey released at Northwestern High School.
Local and national policy leaders gathered at Northwestern High School this morning to discuss a new survey of teachers that shows more children are coming to school hungry, and are unprepared to learn as a result.
The survey was produced by the non-profit No Kid Hungry, which interviewed more than 1,000 kindergarden through eighth grade teachers.
Sixty percent of teachers in the survey said students regularly came to school hungry. Of that group, 80 percent said students are coming to school hungry at least once a week. Many teachers are dipping into their own pockets to provide snacks to make the students nutritionally ready for the school day.
The lack of proper nutrition, according to No Kid Hungry, means that students have a harder time concentrating, have poorer academic performance and suffer physical maladies like headaches and stomach aches.
But it is a solvable problem, said school officials.
"If we can feed them…we know we can ensure they are successful," said District Five Prince George's County Board of Education Chair Verjeana Jacobs.
School districts, local and national government bodies should make more nutritious food available for children in their places of learning and play, according to No Kid Hungry. In particular, schools should do more to expand participation rates in school breakfast programs.
That last one can be a challenge. For instance, at Northwestern High School, only half of the students who qualify for the free and reduced meal plans take advantage of the school's breakfast offerings, according to Principal Edgar Batenga.
The reasons for the differing participation rates are something of a mystery for Batenga and school administrators.
"We haven't been able to pinpoint why that is," said Batenga in an interview. "We open at 9 a.m. Being such a late school, maybe they are eating at home? Maybe they don't have enough time between the time the bus arrives and classes begin. We don't know."
Teachers in the No Kid Hungry survey said that timing and stigma both play a role in the reduced participation rates for school breakfast meal programs.
"Some kids don't want to be seen in the cafeteria in the mornings, thinking that it's just for poor children," said Janey Thornton, USDA deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. "Sometimes parents don't know that they qualify."
The event was supposed to include Gov. Martin O'Malley, but he had to drop out at the last minute due to as scheduling conflict. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was a member of the discussion panel as well.
A number of Northwestern High School students attended the event. One of those students was senior Shane James. Last year, James was one of four students disciplined for organizing an attempted student walk-out from the school in protest of a number of issues, including the quality of the food served in the cafeteria.
James said he was happy to see Northwestern highlighted in the panel discussion, but that more work was needed to meet the goal of making sure that students did not go hungry.
"I'd like to know more details about what they plan to do nationally and politically to realize their goals," said James in an interview.
As for those school lunches at Northwestern?
"Some people say the lunches are getting better. Some don't," said James. "I have noticed that there are more vegetable offerings, though."