A new national study confirms what Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools already knew too many children are coming to school hungry and thats taking a toll on their academic performance.
The survey of 1,000 kindergarten through 8th grade educators found that 73 percent of teachers and 87 percent of principals say they teach or see students at school on a regular basis who are hungry. Half the teachers surveyed by the philanthropic group No Kids Hungry tagged hunger as a serious classroom issue one that affects not only academic achievement but behavior too.
This past June, the CMS school board voted to get aggressive in tackling the matter by providing breakfast at no cost to all students. The Universal Breakfast program is available to all students regardless of household income this school year.
Making breakfast available and universal tackles obstacles that educators in the recent study say hinder getting children the nourishment they need to learn. Those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school often dont do so because of the stigma attached to the free meals.
Breakfast is a particularly important meal because it helps students get a good start each day to concentrate and learn. Research nationally has shown that eating breakfast is linked to fewer absences, higher academic achievement and increased graduation rates.
CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison put it well when he recommended the universal breakfast: Coming to school hungry can hurt a students chances of success. Its important for schools to help the whole child and Universal Breakfast will help us do that more effectively. While we rely on many outside organizations to help provide a wide range of wraparound support, providing breakfast is something our schools can do for children.
For CMS, that move could be transformative for a lot of children. More than half 54 percent of all CMS students are classified as economically disadvantaged students.
Nationwide, 21 million low-income students eat free or reduced price school lunches. But only half that number eat a school breakfast. To boost that number, several schools are trying to remove the stigma by providing a morning meal in class while the teacher takes roll and prepares the class for learning. The results have been notable. With the Breakfast after the Bell program, 76 percent of teachers saw improved concentration; 57 percent saw increased attendance; 54 percent saw discipline problems drop.
Nationally, districts in Hillsborough (Tampa), and Miami-Dade in Florida, New York City and Baltimore have successfully launched and sustained free universal-breakfast programs.
More N.C. school systems, including the states public charter schools, should ensure that such meals are available.
It is shameful that so many children and the numbers are growing in this country, a land of plenty, go hungry. But as Morrison wisely noted, something can be done about this issue at our schools. If communities truly want to give all children the best chance to succeed in life, enabling and urging schools to provide healthy and free breakfasts to students is a good starting point.
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