One major factor affects every child’s ability to learn.
It can’t be addressed through homework, tutors, or testing. But that doesn’t mean teachers and schools can’t do anything to help.
Texas children are arriving to school with an empty stomach; many go home to empty cupboards.
Simply, hunger makes it hard to learn. And, unfortunately, many students across Texas receive only one well-balanced meal a day—the one they eat in the school cafeteria. Students in food-insecure homes struggle even more during the summer, when they lose access to their most reliable meal source.
In this feature, we explore how hunger affects Texas students by speaking with a San Antonio school district to learn what they’re doing to combat this serious issue, as well as sharing an ATPE member’s personal experience helping the children of her community. To understand the full scope of this topic, check out our infographic below.
HOW ONE SCHOOL DISTRICT ADDRESSES FOOD INSECURITY
By Jenny Arredondo, San Antonio ISD’s senior executive director for child nutrition services
San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) has 90 campuses district wide and services more than 50,000 students. Our district is the third largest school district in Bexar County—and has a 90 percent economically disadvantaged student population. There are issues with food insecurity in Bexar County, and many of the highest poverty rates fall within zip codes in SAISD boundaries.
That’s where our Child Nutrition Department, and their responsibility to our students, comes in. Our Child Nutrition Department is constantly looking for ways to increase participation rates and extend student services. We offer breakfast, lunch, supper, snack, and the Seamless Summer Program at campuses across the district. More than 91,000 student meals are served daily, and the district maintains an 87 percent lunch participation rate and an 83 percent breakfast participation rate.
There are many opportunities to provide nutritious meals on a daily basis and impact student lives in a positive way. Here are the programs we’ve found most successful for our communities.
Food pantries are available to students during times when child nutrition programs are not available, like on weekends and holidays. The pantries not only support the needs of students but also help reduce waste for our programs.
Food pantry items are donated by the campus. Cafeteria managers distribute surplus nonperishable food items to students via the pantry. Students visit their campus’s food pantry to select the items they need. They can take as many items as they’d like, and they can consume them at school or home.
We kept the pantry registration process simple in order to make it easy for campuses to participate. Campus liaisons are required to attend training hosted by the Child Nutrition Department in order to maintain the integrity of the program and teach safe food practices. The campus liaisons are also required to obtain a food-handlers license. Additionally, we involved the local health department to approve safe food-handling practices.
Recent legislative action, such as the Student Fairness and Feeding Act, has allowed the implementation of food pantries in campuses across the district. SAISD implemented 10 active food pantries during the 2017-18 school year and hopes to implement more next school year.
BREAKFAST IN THE CLASSROOM
SAISD also has a large percent of campuses offering Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC). BIC ensures all students start the day alert, well-fed, and ready to learn. The meal that many students receive during BIC may be the first meal they have had since the previous school meal the day before.
Through BIC, students receive a free complete breakfast, including milk, juice or fruit, whole-grain cereals and breads, and a healthy entrée. The food is delivered to classrooms, where teachers make sure each student gets each breakfast item.
The district was recently noted by the Food Research and Action Center for meeting their goal of serving 70 low income children breakfast for every 100th child participating in lunch. Seventy-five districts were surveyed, and only 22 met the goal. We not only met the goal but ranked second behind Los Angeles Unified School District. The Children at Risk Organization also issued school food rankings, and SAISD ranked first in the state for large school districts with at least 50,000 students and with at least 60 percent of the students classified as economically disadvantaged.
The implementation of “sharing tables” in cafeterias and classrooms has helped reduce waste and provided additional servings to students in need. Students who have unwanted nonperishable food items place those items on a designated sharing table. Students who visit the sharing tables are able to select additional food items to supplement their meal or have the opportunity to save nonperishable items for later. Students can select as many items as they want.
To start the program, we created a one-page flier to provide information to staff and students on how sharing tables work, what students are allowed to keep, and how many items can be selected. The concept also applies to campuses participating in BIC. Many campuses in SAISD, including the larger high school campuses, have active sharing tables in their cafeterias during meal times. Efforts will continually be made to bring awareness to the sharing table concept and its many benefits.
SAISD is currently piloting a Supper in the Classroom model at five campuses across the district. Via this program, all students receive a meal before leaving at the end of the school day.
We are also in the process of expanding our after-school supper program. During the 2017-18 school year, we added nine additional campuses to the program. The Child Nutrition Department also organized an awareness campaign district wide. Meetings have been conducted with principals to explain the benefits of the program and provide opportunities to students in the after-school setting.
The department has seen a 46 percent increase in the number of supper meals served during the 2017-18 school year in comparison to the 2016-17 school year. Other serving models are being introduced across the district at different grade levels in order to increase student participation. Our goal: No student goes home hungry!
LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Currently, all of our programs take place during the course of the traditional school year. Unfortunately, student hunger exists outside of the parameters of the school year and over the summer months. SAISD participates in the Seamless Summer Program when school is not in session. The selected sites chosen for the program follow the academic programs put in place by the district during the summer months. All of the sites are designated as open sites and are available to children in the community—even those not attending an academic program.
The Child Nutrition Department at SAISD is passionate when it comes to feeding students. Our number one priority is to support our students by providing healthy, nutritious meals through a variety of daily meal programs. We make the effort to keep up with the changing dynamics and the needs of the students and district.
SERVING DURING SUMMER
By Karen Hames, Lewisville ISD
Texas schools do all they can during the school year to ensure no child goes hungry. But what happens during the summer? As schools adapt their programming to close the gap, surrounding communities develop their own programs to supplement the need. ATPE member Karen Hames shares how her local church began their own program more than 25 years ago and still continues to this day.
In 1991, First United Methodist Church of The Colony began feeding children who qualified for free lunches at their campuses during the school year, five days a week during the summer. The program, Kids Eat Free, has since expanded to any child, age three through 18, who comes to one of our two locations. We provide a healthy lunch for these children, as well as a place to touch base each day with friends and caring adults in a safe environment.
My participation began as a teacher who saw children coming to school every day having had nothing for breakfast. It worried me that they might also not be getting anything for lunch, especially since so many of our students have parents who work during the day, and the children would be home alone. It was also a way to teach equity and compassion to my own children.
Sunday through Thursday, groups of volunteers gather at the church to organize the following day’s meal. Usually that means preparing bags with nonperishable items to speed the delivery process, as well as making sandwiches ready to hand out.
Donations come from church and community members. Anytime we’ve been low on anything, it only takes one all call and supplies magically appear. We’ve been blessed the past few years to have QuikTrip donate sandwiches, which really saves us time and provides the variety we are not always able to give.
Monday through Friday, one group of volunteers mans a location at our church and another at the local Budget Suites where we have many children living. About 200 to 300 children are served daily at our peak times of the summer. In addition to the food and company, we also provide free donated books to those who want them, as we want the children to continue to read, knowing that the downtime between school years is a period of lost skills for many. On Fridays, we provide weekend bags in the hopes that the food will carry them until Monday.
It’s impossible to know exactly how we are affecting the children. To me, it’s more about helping each child see that there are caring adults who are available, who are giving freely of their own time, and who want them to feel valued. On serving day, I normally work at the Budget Suites location because it’s outside, and I like the heat. This last summer, on the first day at our normal setup spot, a young man we have been serving for several years was waiting for us with a smile on his face. It showed me we’re doing something right.