Md. teachers finding hungry kids in their classes

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, and Tom Nelson, president of Share Our Strength

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, and Tom Nelson, president of Share Our Strength

By Tricia McCarter-Joseph

Public school teachers in Maryland say they are seeing students who regularly come to school hungry and some teachers purchase food weekly for these students.

A new report finds that 63% of Maryland teachers surveyed say children are not getting enough to eat at home and this is having a negative effect on students’ academic performance.

In a panel discussion at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Prince George’s County Board of Education Chair Verjeana Jacobs joined other federal and state panelists to announce the findings of a survey of over 1,000 public school teachers who teach from kindergarten to 8th Grade.

In partnership with Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization advocating against hunger in schools nationwide, the discussion focused on raising awareness of state food programs available in schools across Maryland.

No jurisdictions are hunger free

“We don’t have a single jurisdiction [in the state] that’s hunger free,” said Anne Sheridan, director of the Maryland campaign for Share Our Strength.

CORRECTED: According to the Maryland State Department of Education website, about 368,000 school children were enrolled in programs for free or reduced-priced food for the 2011-2012 school year.

Finance officials who oversee these programs at the education department estimate its value at $241 million and project a slightly increased figure for the upcoming school year.

In addition, in the 12 months ending in March, 17,000 new kids were added to the School Breakfast Program, part of a state partnership called the First-Class Breakfast Initiative to end childhood hunger.

Not reaching enough children

But the teacher survey, called the No Kid Hungry Campaign, also found that programs were not reaching enough needy children and families. Of the nationwide 20 million eligible kids only 9.8 million were served last year.

“We have to be moved by these findings. It is a very real experience that [people] are facing everyday,” said Sheridan who also believes that in order to reach the goal of providing for more children, more attention needs to be paid to the teachers who see them everyday.

Overcoming stigma

The deputy under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer affairs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Janey Thornton, expressed concern regarding coming up with creative ways to get kids to participate in the programs by making it “cool” especially for high school kids.

Survey data showed that some kids do not want be singled out as poor by eating in the cafeteria and will forgo eating to socialize with friends. In response schools have implemented Grab N’ Go meals and Breakfast in the Classroom.

However, some parents are taking advantage of the programs. Panelist Lareese Cathey whose daughter participates in the breakfast program at Graysonville Elementary School.

“It’s very rewarding for us as parents to step up and make sure the needs are being met for our children,” Cathey said.

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