School Breakfast: A Need in Wake, and Federal Funding Support
Guest blog written by Sarah Martin, Wake PTA Council, North Carolina PTA, AHA Executive Committee
Perhaps you’ve seen the orange “No Kid Hungry” logo showing up in restaurants and in media recently. No Kid Hungry is a campaign by Share Our Strength that seeks to end “…childhood hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day. The No Kid Hungry campaign connects kids in need to effective nutrition programs like school breakfast and summer meals and teaches low-income families to cook healthy, affordable meals.”
So what does that really mean? I found out at the 2014 Child Hunger Conference in Durham last month. Did you know:
- 73% of teachers say they teach students who regularly come to school hungry because there isn’t enough food at home?
- 88% of teachers say hungry kids can’t concentrate?
- 82% of teachers say hungry kids show poor academic performance?
- 67% of teachers say hungry kids cause discipline problems?
In June 2013, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board voted to offer free school breakfast to all students this school year through the universal breakfast program.
In the United States, 21 million kids get free or reduced-price school lunch. They also are eligible for free school breakfast, but only half get school breakfast. Even more so, did you know:
- Kids who eat school breakfast miss less school (attend 1.5 more days per year),
- And they do better in math (averaging 17.5% higher math test scores)?
- And they’re 20% more likely to graduate high school.
- And high school graduates earn on average $10,000 more annually than non-grads.
These statistics, gathered from the Hunger in Our Schools 2013 Teachers Report, are compelling. Furthermore, research shows eating breakfast helps reduce the risk for overweight and obesity. (See The Breakfast Effect.) These are national statistics, but this is happening right here in Wake County too. The numbers are real for our communities.
By the Numbers in Wake County
Marilyn Moody, Senior Director of Child Nutrition Services (CNS), Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), shared local statistics with me following the conference. “The goal of Child Nutrition Services is to nourish the minds of our students so that they can get the most benefit of their academic endeavors. We aim to fuel their bodies so that they can grow, learn, and perform at their best,” Moody said.
- In Wake County, for the 2013-2014 school year, there are 157,296 students enrolled (including Pre-K), and 35.76% of them are enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program.
- In 2012-2013, 47 schools in Wake had more than 50% of its student population enrolled in the program, and at some schools more than 80% of students were eligible for free and reduced lunch. (WCPSS Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Program Participation by School 2012-2013).
- Data for 2013-2014 shows three schools at or over 80% free and reduced enrollment this year, but only 1/3 of those students participating in school lunch also participate in the school breakfast program.
Do the math. We’re missing the boat here, folks. The federal government provides reimbursement for these student meals, and we’re leaving them on the table. This breakfast meal would potentially fuel these students to greater academic performance, as described above. Public schools in North Carolina provide the lunch program by federal law, but school principals determine whether and how to offer breakfast programs. A recent article in the North Raleigh News described a pilot breakfast program that will soon get underway in Millbrook High School in Raleigh.
According to Ms. Moody, currently, the five Renaissance schools in Wake County (Barwell Road, Brentwood, Creech Road, Walnut Creek, and Wilburn Drive) provide universal free breakfast for their students. This means that every student in those five schools, regardless of socio-economic status, receives a free breakfast. CNS worked with the principals at these schools to determine the breakfast delivery methods, which range from traditional service in the dining room to “grab and go” breakfast eaten in the classroom. Last June, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board voted to provide free breakfasts to all students through the universal breakfast program for this school year.
Wake schools have used varying methods to increase participation in school breakfast programs, according to Ms. Moody. In 2011, schools in WCPSS served approximately 19,000 breakfast meals a day. In the current school year, Moody said over 22,000 breakfasts were served each day across the county.
I encourage you to find out more about both school breakfast programs and summer feeding programs for these same children when they are out of school. Both are supported by our N.C. Department of Public Instruction, and both can happen right here in Wake County. Those planning a summer activity for children can contact WCPSS Child Nutrition Services at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn if their program is eligible for summer meals.
No Kid Hungry North Carolina and partners will host a fall 2014 NC Breakfast Challenge to encourage more N.C. schools to feed more students at breakfast. If you want to know more about school breakfasts and summer feeding in general, visit No Kid Hungry NC or contact me. I don’t have all the answers, but I can put you in touch with folks who can answer your questions.