Saturday, February 6, 2010

Do you have anything to eat?

This question is probably the one most heard around my school in an average day. Grownups and kids alike hear this request constantly, and everyone knows that food is among the most valuable currencies one can have here. I, personally, am asked this question at least half a dozen times during the day. This is ironic since, although I often have food in my classroom to share, it is rarely something students find adequate to assuage their seemingly ever-present hunger.

Given that teenagers around my school are so constantly looking for food, it may be safely assumed that they’re not getting enough to eat. Is this a problem? I think so. Research shows that teenagers need a diet of between 2,200 and 2,800 calories per day. This is far greater than the 1,600 to 2,000 calories adults need, and the timing of these calories has been shown to be important. Breakfast, for example, is widely recognized to be essential to children’s performance in school. Simply put (and obvious to those of us who teach), teenagers who skip breakfast have more trouble concentrating and do not perform as well. Skipping breakfast in childhood and adolescence may also be a cause for health problems such as obesity and heart disease later.

But what to do? Institutionally, we’re kind of limited, although we have some things we can do. My school doesn’t have a cafeteria; the kids brown bag it, although we do have a free/reduced lunch offering for those who qualify which is sponsored by a neighboring district. We have vending machines that are fairly reasonable in price, but the offerings are not all what one might call healthy. We’ve managed to negotiate for a decent offering of decent foods, including sandwiches, but there is still far more junk in them than is good. We communicate to parents the importance of making sure their children eat breakfast and that they bring enough food to last through their very long day (these guys are in school from 8:30 – 4:15). We have even set aside money to buy extra free snacks so the kids can come and ask for them, if they need them. They just come and ask at the office (politely,and with good grammar), and we feed them.

It’s not enough. The students come into school at 8:30 and you can tell the ones that haven’t eaten. They’re sluggish, groggy and have little to no attention span. You can also tell the ones who’ve tried to make up for a lack of breakfast with caffeine. They’re all kinds of giddy when they come in the door but, by mid-morning break at 10:15, they’re dragging their caffeine crashed asses around like they’ll never be able to think again. The kids go up and down like this all day and, as you might expect, it has a tangible effect on their ability to be the best students they can be.

As I was lamenting yesterday that I didn’t have any granola bars for the last of the students to come entreating for victuals, I wondered if someone else might have more ideas about how to address this problem than I did. So, I went to see the school nurses. I brought up my ponderings to them and, bless them, they bounced this idea back and forth with me for a full 45 minutes. We didn’t come to any better solutions in the short term than what we already have in place, but we did agree to explore a couple of new things--new ways to talk to parents and teenagers about eating good food from breakfast throughout the day, the possibility of doing free/reduced breakfast as well as lunch, more and better food in vending machines, talking to the student organizers of the co-op (isn’t it cool that we have a student-organized co-op?) about quality offerings, even what else we might spend money on in the way of food to just hand out.

Ultimately, yes, the issue is one that largely rests outside the realm of the school. As a school, we could simply sit back and say it isn’t our problem. We could wait for someone else to step up and offer some solutions. I’m not saying that the school, or myself individually, can or should take choice or responsibility away from the people it’s supposed to rest with. I’m saying that if we can contribute to the solution, then why shouldn’t we do that? It’s in our best interest, and in the interest of the kids we serve.

1 comment:

Mrs. Chili said...

Interesting; we have the same problem at CHS. Of course, we've got the benefit of a (pretty good) pasta place on the first floor of the building (their mac and cheese is actually pretty good... though mine is better).

Sadly, we're still working on getting to the proverbial runway. Food service is WAY down on our pre-flight check list...