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Feb. 25, 2011
TOPEKA Nearly half of rural educators in the U.S. reported that children coming to school hungry was a serious problem where they teach, according to the results of a survey released this week (PDF).
The report also showed that two-thirds of the K-8 teachers surveyed said that most or a lot of their students relied on school meals as their primary source of nutrition.
Jenny Spillman, who has taught for 23 years in southeast Kansas, said both statements applied at Marmaton Valley Elementary, where she currently teaches in the small town of Moran.
"We have a lot of low-income houses and families and a lot of the kids act like this is their only meal of the day when they're at school and have breakfast and lunch," said Spillman, who teaches reading and math. "They eat everything that's offered. They're hungry. They're not picky about what they eat."
The report, "Hunger in Our Schools," showed that rural teachers were most likely to have students who came to school hungry because they didn't get enough to eat at home; 49 percent of teachers in rural schools reported that a quarter or more of their students come to school hungry compared to 48 percent in urban schools and 40 percent in suburban schools.
Of the teachers surveyed, 96 percent said breakfast was extremely or very important to academic achievement.
Spillman agreed, saying it was a "primary consideration" in learning to read.
"If a kid is sitting there with their stomach growling, or they're eating just junk and...their blood sugar is going nuts on them, they can't do well. The nutrition link is an important factor," Spillman said.
Shannon Cotsoradis of Kansas Action for Children, a Topeka-based advocacy group, also described a strong link between good nutrition and a child's ability to learn.
"With nearly half of all Kansas children relying on free and reduced school meals as their primary source of nutrition, we should all be concerned about the impact children’s hunger is having on academic outcomes in our state," she said. "Simply put, hungry children aren’t ready children."
Share Our Strength is a non-profit group focused on ending childhood hunger in the U.S. Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 31 of last year, the group did a nationwide, online survey of 638 public school teachers who instruct classes kindergarten through 8th grades. The survey's margin of error was +/- 4.0 percent. The survey was funded by C&S Wholesale Grocers.
Other survey findings:
• 63 percent of teachers said the problem of children coming to school hungry had increased in the past year (19 percent said by a lot; 44 percent said by a little).
• 40 percent of teachers said they spend an average $25 per month of their own money on extra food for the classroom.
• Teachers attributed students coming to school hungry to the following reasons:
- Unstable home environment (72 percent);
- Parents or caregivers not having enough money to buy food (55 percent);
- Parents or caregivers working or not around to prepare food for children (50 percent); and
- Not having any food at home (45 percent).
→ View the full report via the surveyor's website.