Friday, March 24, 2006

Issuing The Weekend Food Ration To Students

Some Chicago public schools are now issuing weekend food rations to children:
Hoping to stem persistent hunger and improve nutrition for poor children, the Chicago Public Schools and Greater Chicago Food Depository are sending kids home from school for the weekend with sacks of food.

More studies are showing that children who don't receive adequate meals at home perform poorly at school, and officials are hoping their program will help reduce childhood hunger and thereby improve academic performance.

"There are so many kids whose parents just don't have the means to provide enough nutrition for the kids, and unfortunately there is a population of kids who just miss meals," said Mike Mulqueen, executive director of the Food Depository.

The program, dubbed Nourish for Knowledge, is active in 16 city schools in low-income neighborhoods, although officials hope it is well-received by parents and can be expanded. About 2,460 Chicago schoolchildren receive the sacks at week's end.

Chicago school officials are making a concerted effort to make sure students are not suffering from hunger while they're sitting in class.

About 273,000 city school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school. The district serves about 72 million meals each school year, including breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks.

Last year, the district launched a summer program to provide full meals for children at more than 400 schools in low-income neighborhoods, regardless of whether or not they were enrolled in school. The school system found great demand, serving about 1.2 million meals through the summer.

"It's a recognition on the part of food banks and schools that many families right now are having trouble making ends meet in terms of their food budget," said Lynn Parker, director of child-nutrition programs at the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C. "During the weekend, they know that when school meals aren't available, the children and their families are struggling financially and need the extra help."

Study after study has shown that hungry children do not perform as well in school. They can be lethargic and irritable, leading them to pay less attention in class. Studies also have shown that hungry children have more health problems and miss more school because of illness, Parker said.

The weekend food depository program is patterned after similar programs in cities around the country, including Kansas City, Tucson and New Haven.

Children receive black, plastic bags filled with granola bars, nuts, fruit bars and non-perishable milk.

Officials said they included only non-perishable items because, among other reasons, in many poor households, income is sporadic and there might be plenty of food in the house one weekend and little the next. Non-perishable food can be saved for those meager periods.

To promote the program and entice further donations to expand it, Mulqueen and Arne Duncan, chief executive of the schools, passed out food bags to preschoolers at Cesar Chavez school on the Southwest Side on Thursday afternoon.

The program is funded by the Food Depository, with lead funding from the McCormick Tribune Foundation's Communities Program Funds, including the Chicago Tribune Charities, Bears Care and Cubs Care.
At our California junior high school, over 20% of the students get free breakfast every school day.

All of this points to the fact that there are many... far too many... parents who simply are not doing their jobs.

Update: (3/25) Mamacita gives voice to what many teachers are feeling when we see our students hurting.
See this week's edition of The Carnival of education here and our latest posts over there.