Number of breakfasts given to Md. students increases

National survey of teachers indicated many children come to school hungry

February 22, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Public schools in Maryland have increased the number of breakfasts provided to students over the past year, said an Anne Arundel County schools official Tuesday, as a national survey of teachers was released indicating that children regularly come to school hungry.

Jodi Risse, supervisor for food and nutrition services for Anne Arundel County public schools, said that 25.6 million breakfasts were served, according to state Department of Education figures, up from 25.2 million the previous year. She said that 76 percent of the meals were served to students eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

She said that in Anne Arundel County, school officials estimate that about 1.5 million breakfasts will be served this year, up from 1.4 million last year.

"Our studies show, and we see it firsthand, that students eating breakfasts have better attendance rates, less visits to the school nurse and they're really less likely to be overweight," Risse said.

Risse was among several school officials nationwide that spoke Tuesday during a teleconference announcing findings of a nationwide survey, released by the Washington, D.C.-based Share Our Strength, probing hunger among U.S. schoolchildren.

Two-thirds of teachers nationwide say children in their classrooms regularly come to school too hungry to learn because they don't get enough to eat at home. More than 60 percent of teachers surveyed said the problem has increased within the past year, and 65 percent say that school meals are students' primary source of nutrition.

The report said that teachers spend an average of $25 a month of their own money to purchase food for their classrooms. Nearly all of the teachers say that they believe that students who eat a good breakfast are more focused, better behaved and thus perform better academically.

The public-opinion survey, called "Hunger in Our Schools: Share Our Strength's Teachers Report" and conducted by Lake Research Partners, contains responses from teachers in 638 kindergarten through eighth-grade public schools.

Risse said that several years ago, Anne Arundel County launched a program called Breakfast with Class that allows all students to take their breakfasts from the cafeteria to their classrooms, where they eat together with their teachers. Each student pays for breakfasts at the rate determined by their meal benefit application.

"Our teachers find that there's less confusion in the morning, less food waste and that students enjoy the time to eat together as a class," said Risse. "The program eliminates the stigma that breakfast at school is only for students who receive free and reduced-price meals."

She said that teachers, secretaries and bus drivers who offer food to hungry children should instead direct such students to the schools' food service division.

"There's always going to be a hungry child that's going to look for food or may not have the means to have access to it or the money to purchase it," she said.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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