As athletes, we know proper nutrition is imperative to our success. It has always been an important part of my training. When I eat a healthy breakfast, I feel strong and perform better on the field.
Students may have a different playing field, but breakfast is just as important to their success. Ever ace a pop quiz at 8 a.m. on an empty stomach? Yeah, me neither.
So why are only half of our nation’s kids who are eligible for a free school breakfast getting one?
My wife Alexis and I recently visited Jessup Elementary School near my hometown of Houston, Texas, where we learned about the power of school breakfast. As we walked into Ms. Rivers’ first grade class, we were greeted by a sea of high fives and hugs from 23 lively, happy kids.
Community at risk
Getting breakfast at home isn’t always a guarantee for kids in this hardworking community where 95% of kids are eligible for free school meals. Many families were already struggling to make ends meet when Hurricane Harvey hit. The storm forced families out of their homes and interrupted their ability to earn money. Jessup’s Principal Ryan Pavone told us his students each get an extra piece of fruit that they can hold onto to eat later during the school day.
We learned most schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before the school day starts. Hungry kids often miss out when it works this way. If the bus is late, no breakfast. If they don’t want to be singled out as “the poor kid” eating in the cafeteria while their friends are having fun elsewhere, no breakfast. If they have to talk to their teacher before class starts, no breakfast.
All kids fed
They do things a little differently at Jessup. Instead of serving breakfast in the cafeteria, they make it part of the regular school day, just like lunch. Every morning, the cafeteria staff sets up breakfast carts in the hallways, and at 7:30 a.m., teachers start sending small groups from their classrooms into the hall to grab a breakfast bag. Students then reenter the classroom and eat breakfast at their desks. Every kid is offered a meal, and everyone eats together. While we were there, the class played a nutrition trivia game and read Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Things You Can Do That Are Good For You. There was an amazing sense of community in the classroom. By the time we left the kids had transformed into attentive students, ready to learn.
Making breakfast part of the regular school day has a powerful effect on kids.
Kids can stay focused. Those who are hungry have the food they need to excel in class. Studies show that grades and attendance rise when breakfast is served during the school day.
No one is singled out. When everyone eats together, it creates a feeling of community in the classroom, and kids who need that morning meal no longer feel singled out.
It’s easier. Getting to school extra early is a challenge for working families. Making breakfast part of the regular school day solves that problem.
Changing the narrative
We need to ask ourselves what more we can do to help hungry kids in America. Alexis and I are committed to working with groups like No Kid Hungry to raise awareness about the power of breakfast to fuel a kid’s future.
But it will take more than us. After all, we know the power of teamwork. Think about the connection between athletic performance and proper nutrition. Imagine if you couldn’t rely on a healthy morning meal. Talk to a kid in your life this week about breakfast. Ask them if they eat at school and how it makes them feel. Ask your lawmakers to make breakfast a required part of the school day so that it reaches the kids who need it.
Most of all, remember those 23 first graders, full of healthy food, high fives and possibility.
Hunter Pence, Advocate, No Kid Hungry, [email protected]