Survey: Teachers report students ‘regularly’ come to school hungry
When a handful of students consistently showed up for school lethargic and unfocused, second-grade teacher Robin Sutherland discreetly posed a question: Did you have breakfast?
Soon after, she began stopping off at the grocery store to pick up nutrition-packed drinks, or peanut butter and crackers — anything that might give them a protein kick-start.
“Their scores increased, their focus got better,” said Sutherland, who oversees mostly low-income students at Queen Palmer Elementary in Colorado Springs. “It really helped them academically.”
Eventually, she found a church group willing to share the cost — and now a school-wide program takes care of all students who may not get a nutritious breakfast at home.
More than half of Colorado teachers dip into their own pockets to buy food for hungry students, and about one-third spend up to $50 a month, according to a survey released Thursday by a nonprofit group seeking to end childhood hunger.
Share Our Strength, which has launched the No Kid Hungry campaign, rolled out a national report Thursday that shows about 60 percent of teachers report kids in their classroom “regularly” come to school hungry — a figure that matches Colorado’s result.
The survey tabulated responses from nearly 1,100 teachers across the nation — including 193 in Colorado — weighted by age, grade level and region.
Statewide, nearly two-thirds of teachers believe providing food on test days can improve student scores, and up to 95 percent find that breakfast, in particular, can alleviate health issues, spur better academic performance and improve concentration.
In Colorado, among more than 200,000 low-income students who ate a free or reduced-price lunch in 2010-11, only 87,000 participated in the federal School Breakfast Program.
The No Kid Hungry campaign, also supported by Hunger Free Colorado and the governor’s office, seeks to get higher participation in school breakfast programs by helping schools craft ways to incorporate it into their daily schedule.
Across the state, even schools with relatively high low-income populations, as measured by the subsidized lunch program, see variable participation in breakfast programs.
At Wiggins Elementary in northeast Colorado, principal Gary Bruntz said the national and statewide numbers seemed higher than what he sees in his rural school of about 250 students — about half of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
“I’m seeing about 10 percent that come in and get breakfast,” he said of a program that even buses kids in early for the meal.
But at Fairview Elementary in the low-income Sun Valley neighborhood of Denver, where about 97 percent take advantage of the lunch program, principal Norma Giron sees numbers much higher than those reflected in the survey. Last year all but about 10 of the school’s more than 300 students relied on a school breakfast.