State schools superintendent Randy Dorn joined the Children’s Alliance this week to ask school officials to think about how kids start their day: with their minds on their studies, or on their empty stomachs?
Members of our staff joined Superintendent Dorn and the outstanding educators and students of Auburn’s Washington Elementary School Monday morning to demonstrate a simple route to academic success: school breakfast.
The Children’s Alliance, Dorn and other anti-hunger allies have launched the statewide Fuel Up First with Breakfast Challenge. The Challenge aims to increase participation in school breakfast programs by 50 percent over the next two years.
Nearly half of all students in Washington state qualify for free breakfast, yet very few actually get it. Those who miss it are missing out on more than a meal. Some schools don't have the proper equipment, like coolers or food warmers, ready when kids arrive, and some haven't found a way to reconcile morning meals with morning classes. Yet studies show that students who eat breakfast score higher on standardized tests and get better grades. They are more likely to be a healthy weight and have healthier levels of nutrients like calcium in their diets.
Schools across the state will be offered technical and financial assistance – along with special prizes – for adopting new practices that make sure their students get the food they need to start their day.
School meals – both lunch and breakfast – are tools every community can use to fight childhood hunger. Here in our state, 1 in 5 families with children are struggling with hunger.
“Educators know that hunger disrupts learning and stifles academic performance,” Children’s Alliance executive director Paola Maranan told 25 local school leaders assembled in a Washington Elementary classroom on Monday. “But we know what works when it comes to ensuring that all children have the nutritious meals they need.”
If each school across Washington state met the 50 percent participation goal, we estimate that the state could earn an extra $18 million in funding from federal child nutrition programs. This is a powerful incentive to lowering barriers to healthy, timely meals.
“In a time when schools are asked to do more with less, it’s up to educational leaders to leverage every asset we’ve got,” says Dorn. “Despite the progress made in schools like this one, we can do much more. Funding for school breakfast can help many of our schools and students achieve greatness.”
Washington Elementary School’s summer school students showed media representatives and local school officials how they start their day with a quick and nutritious meal. On this and every morning through the academic year, the students pick up food items from a rolling cart outside their classroom, then sit down at their desks and eat. Typical school breakfast items include grapes, sliced oranges, milk and granola bars.
The students’ teacher, Travis Volk, says the morning routine prepares students for learning. “We often hear of the importance of school breakfast, but in my classroom the benefits can be seen. During my first year of teaching I had a student who came to school daily with a breakfast of potato chips and soda; consequently, he struggled to stay awake after an hour of class. When children start the day off right, the impact of our instructional time is greater and our students perform better.”
The two-year Fuel Up First with Breakfast Challenge is staffed by the Children’s Alliance in partnership with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Share Our Strength, and the Washington State Dairy Council.
For more information about the challenge or to learn about tools schools can use to make sure students start their days ready to learn, contact Nadiya Beckwith-Stanley, Food Policy Associate, at 206-324-0340 ext. 17.
Photo above: Washington state schools superintendent Randy Dorn visits with first-grade students during a mock breakfast demonstration Aug. 22 at Washignton Elementary School in Auburn. Elementary school students in the Auburn School District pick up their breakfasts in the hall outside their classrooms, then eat them at their desks. Photo by Ed Sozinho / www.proimagephotography.com.