It happens every school morning: More than 300,000 Ohio children in more than 3,000 elementary, junior-high, and high schools sit down for a healthy, hot breakfast.
It helps them learn. It brings peace and quiet to the classroom. And in the long run, it helps our state’s economy prosper and America become more competitive in the global marketplace.
Everyone remembers the school lunch program when we were growing up. We were in it, or our friends or classmates were in it, or at least it was part of our school. Today, the school breakfast program has joined it: The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the popular program nationally; the Ohio Department of Education helps all 88 Ohio counties run the breakfast plan.
Research shows that the impact of childhood hunger extends beyond the health, emotional, and learning challenges of hungry kids. We know that when kids are hungry, they struggle to learn. When kids don’t learn, they struggle in life.
In Ohio, nearly 700,000 children are at risk of going to bed hungry. When kids aren’t hungry, we’re all better off.
Providing school breakfasts creates a more conducive learning environment for everyone because well-fed kids are better behaved.
It provides better education results, because kids who eat breakfast at school do better academically. Well-fed kids go on to have more success, attend college, and get better-paying jobs.
Ohio schools are at the forefront of imaginative, innovative approaches to making their school breakfast programs work:
● Glenwood Elementary School in Rossford runs a program called “Got Breakfast?” Aimed at younger children, it features posters of local “celebrities” such as the principal, teachers, or high school athletes eating breakfast.
● Fremont Middle School in Fremont invites parents to eat breakfast with their children. “Theme months” feature different foods, such as fresh fruit and yogurt smoothies. Many of the schoolchildren had never had smoothies but came to love them, perhaps promoting healthier options at home.
● Amos McDannel Elementary School in Canton offers prepackaged breakfasts in a grab bag that students can eat in the cafeteria, the classroom, or designated spaces around the school.
Ohio can do even better. Some school-breakfast advocates propose serving all children, reducing the stigma for students who are part of the breakfast program. Studies show that all students benefit from school breakfasts, not just those from food-insecure homes.
Hunger is a solvable problem, and our country has a history of bipartisan support to address it. We can provide the tools to reduce hunger in America and ultimately eliminate it. The school breakfast and lunch programs are two of those tools.
Brian Rothenberg is excutive director of ProgressOhio. Cassandra McKee is managing director of the Ohio Fair Share education fund.