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Arkansas "Breaking the Fast" of Kids Headed to School Hungry

PHOTO: Students and teachers in the Drew Central School District say they love their breakfast-in-the-classroom program. Courtesy of Drew Central School Dist.
PHOTO: Students and teachers in the Drew Central School District say they love their breakfast-in-the-classroom program. Courtesy of Drew Central School Dist.
August 28, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A huge portion of America's children are headed back to class hungry, according to a new report. The good news is that some Arkansas school districts are changing that - and getting great results - just by offering in-class breakfast.

Three out of four teachers and administrators say they see students who don't have enough to eat, according to the "No Kid Hungry" campaign. However, Tiffany Barnard, child nutrition director at the Drew Central School District in Arkansas, said a grant from "No Kid Hungry" has allowed the district to offer breakfast in the classroom.

Students and teachers love it, she said.

"I had one of them tell me it's kind of like it was at grandma's house when they were growing up - that they all sit down in the morning and eat their breakfast together," she said. "The teacher eats with them. She said it's like having breakfast at her grandparents' house when all 20 grandkids were present."

According to No Kid Hungry, U.S. teachers with hungry students report spending nearly $40 a month of their own money to feed them. Research indicates students who don't eat breakfast learn less, have more behavior problems and go to the school nurse more often.

Barnard said her district had seen all of that, from teachers buying food to students complaining to the nurse of headaches and stomach problems.

"First thing she asks them is, 'When's the last time you ate?' And a lot of times, they would say 'Oh, well, around 7 o'clock yesterday,' you know," Barnard said.

Drew schools provide free breakfast in every classroom, kindergarten through 12th grade. They offer grab-and-go items such as milk and cereal bars four days a week, with hot food once a week. That may be enough to help Arkansas graduate thousands more students every year.

Barnard said they haven't been doing it long enough to see better test scores, but the teachers already report fewer discipline problems.

"There's less chaos in the class," she said. "They say now the kids are paying attention to what you're saying, because they're not looking at the clock every five minutes to see if it's time to go to lunch."

The school district got a $10,000 start-up grant from No Kid Hungry. The group also is working with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR