Kelli Windsor

Resilience Starts with School Breakfast

As kids head back to school, educators are focused on how to best ensure students succeed in the classroom and in life. That involves students being stronger, wiser, and more powerful. New findings from a national survey released by whole child partner Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign show that breakfast is key to academic success and ensuring resilience for students. The findings also show that rethinking how we serve school breakfast is crucial to enhancing the educational experience for all.

Hunger In Our Schools: Teachers' Report 2013 (PDF) surveyed more than 1,200 K–8 teachers and principals nationwide. It found that three out of four K–8 public school teachers and principals see kids who regularly come to school hungry because they aren't getting enough to eat at home. Extensive academic research shows hungry students can't learn or thrive, which is why the school breakfast program is so important. However, of the more than 21 million low-income kids in the United States who rely on a free or reduced-price school lunch, only half—about 11 million—currently get a school breakfast even though they qualify.

We can close this gap by creatively rethinking school breakfast. Traditionally, schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before class begins. We've learned that moving breakfast "after the bell" can make it easier for students to get a healthy morning meal.

Only one out of every four educators report that students eat breakfast after the bell. However, teachers and principals with students that eat breakfast in the classroom are reporting it is a positive experience. Reasons listed include seeing that students are ready to learn (75 percent) and are not singled out (56 percent), meaning they are better able to prosper in the classroom and in life.

One simple change creates many benefits that go beyond alleviating hunger. Teachers and principals whose students have breakfast in the classroom say they've seen improvement in alertness (76 percent), better attendance (57 percent), fewer disciplinary problems (54 percent), fewer visits to the school nurse (55 percent), and fewer tardy students (49 percent). More than half of teachers report seeing behavior and health improvements in students since implementing the program. Importantly, these are benefits that accrue to an entire school community, not just children in need.

If we want our children to navigate challenges both in the classroom and in life, we have to have them fully prepared to learn. Rethinking school breakfast helps make that happen. The No Kid Hungry campaign works to increase participation in the federal School Breakfast Program by giving grants that help schools make changes to the way breakfast is served, raising awareness about the importance of school breakfast, and providing technical assistance in key communities.

We're building a map that paints an unprecedented view of school breakfast programs across the country. You can help inform our work by going to NoKidHungry.org/Breakfast and map your school.

Kelli Windsor is the communications manager for state programs for Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign. Her work provides strategic communications to the efforts to increase participation in federal nutrition programs, such as school breakfast and summer meals. Before joining the movement to end childhood hunger, Windsor worked as a public policy and communications consultant on food and nutrition programs for a Washington, D.C.-based consulting group. She has a master's degree in public policy from George Mason University and a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Furman University. Connect with Windsor by e-mail at kwindsor@strength.org.

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