COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – As Colorado children head back to school, a new report finds many of them are going to class hungry. The survey of teachers by Share Our Strength finds that three out of five teachers in Colorado – and across the country – report they are seeing the effects of hunger in the classroom.
Principal Julie Fahey, a former teacher, sees the problem first-hand at Queen Palmer Elementary School, Colorado Springs. She says many families are experiencing unemployment or rising food and energy prices. She also worries that the lack of food is keeping kids from learning.
“Their academics suffer. They’re not able to pay attention in class. A lot of things are perhaps misdiagnosed as attention deficit, even, when they’re drifting because they just don’t have the brain fuel they need.”
She adds that “brain fuel” helps kids to learn better in the classroom. The report found that school meals offer a safety net, with 56 percent of teachers saying “a lot” or “most” of their students rely on them as a primary source of nutrition.
Summer Gathercole, Colorado director of Share Our Strength, says that while 217,000 kids in Colorado use the free or reduced-price lunch programs during the school year, only 87,000 of them take advantage of the free breakfasts.
“There is a little bit of that stigma around kids not necessarily wanting to go to the cafeteria to get their school breakfast. We’re trying to help think ‘what are some other innovative approaches?'”
Fahey’s school avoids that problem – providing free breakfasts to all students thanks to a grant from Hunger Free Colorado. She says the communal meal with teachers and students reaps huge benefits.
“Traditionally, the nuclear family sits at a table. We’re not in that age anymore. This is a time for our kids to eat as a school family and build those kinds of relationships.”
The study found that teachers also help stem hunger: About three-quarters report they helped families find school meal resources, and more than half spent their own money to buy food for hungry kids.
The full study can be found at www.NoKidHungry.org.