To the editors:
Having a nutritious daily breakfast is crucial to learning. A hungry child entering school starts the day with a severe handicap. Stomach cramps, headaches, and the apathy caused by hunger are real obstacles to learning.
Community Legal Services, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and others are working to ensure that all low-income children in the city participate in the School Breakfast Program – the long-standing federal entitlement that makes a nutritious meal available to every low-income child.
There is a proven link between hunger and the capacity to learn. Children from families experiencing food insecurity are two to three times more likely to have emotional, behavioral, and academic problems.
Commendably, the School District recently expanded its free breakfast program to every child in each of its K-8 schools. This move acknowledges both the importance of a nutritional meal at the start of the day and the sad fact that a mere 43,000 out of 146,000 eligible students actually participate in the program.
A recent national study ranked Philadelphia’s school breakfast participation 16th among 23 large urban school districts – well behind Newark (NJ), Oklahoma City, and Detroit. Surely we can do better in reaching a student population that is 75 percent low-income.
For the 2008-2009 school year, the School District will be one of 11 large, urban districts to participate in the USDA’s School Breakfast Program Expansion Initiative. According to an announcement from the USDA, Philadelphia was chosen “not only for [its] potential to have a significant positive impact on a large number of low-income students, but also for [its] willingness to creatively approach program expansion and dedication to promoting children’s health and education.”
To realize this potential, we need visionary leadership at the highest levels – School District, School Reform Commission, and City government.
Jonathan M. Stein
The writers are general counsel at Community Legal Services and advocate at Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, respectively.