RACINE —Representatives from the Children’s Hunger Alliance recently visited Southern Local Schools, hearing about the successes of the district’s breakfast programs and honoring State Rep. Jay Edwards for his support of the organization.
Children’s Hunger Alliance (CHA), a statewide non-profit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in Ohio, presented a Child Advocacy Award to State Rep. Jay Edwards (R), Ohio House District 94, for his support in helping the organization secure $2.35 million funding in the state biennial budget (Am. Sub. HB 166). This funding will play a critical role in sustaining and expanding the work CHA does to help feed children.
The award ceremony was held at the Southern Local School District (SLSD) last week.
Standing in front of the audience, Judy Mobley, CHA President and CEO, said, “You need a champion and Jay Edwards was that for us. So, we all have him to thank for CHA getting in the state budget which is going to allow us to continue our work and expand our reach to feed more children.”
Over 500,000 — or one in five — Ohio children are food-insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meal will come from. The mission of CHA is to improve access to food for children at-risk, so they have a better chance of becoming productive adults and breaking the cycle of poverty.
Through its mission, CHA’s work includes:
•Increasing school breakfast participation and improving access to summer meals
•Providing meals through partnerships with in-home family and childcare centers as well as afterschool programs
•Providing childhood nutrition and physical education
•Advocating for the welfare of Ohio’s youngest citizens
Before presenting Edwards with the award, Mobley added, “We would like to present a child advocacy award to Rep. Edwards who serves the 94th Ohio House District, which has some of the highest needs in our state with Athens and Meigs Counties having the highest and the third-highest poverty rates in Ohio.”
The representative was grateful to receive the award and said, “When we were working through the budget, there was data given that one in five kids are going hungry. In underserved areas such as Meigs County, the numbers are much higher than that. How are mathematics and science and anything more important when you’ve got a kid hungry in the classroom? It’s just not. We have to get our priorities straight. We have to realize that we have to take care of the foundational things first.”
SLSD was recently named a 2019 Breakfast Champion by the Ohio School Breakfast Challenge for improving their breakfast participation rate to 63 percent versus 50 percent the previous year. The Ohio School Breakfast Challenge is sponsored by CHA, the Ohio Department of Education, the American Dairy Association, the School Nutrition Association of Ohio and Ohio Action for Healthy Kids. Only 10 other school districts in the state were recognized as a school breakfast champion.
The district implemented a tailored-approach by grade so students can access free breakfast while eating in the classroom:
•Pre-K through Grades 2: Breakfast delivered directly to the classroom
•Grades 3 through 6: Grab and go from the cafeteria
•Grades 7 through 12: Students grab and go food tables, strategically placed in hallways
Before the award ceremony, Edwards along with CHA staff and guests had the opportunity to observe second-graders eating breakfast in the classroom. The students chose three items from a variety of milk, juice and hot and cold items — including sausage biscuits, bagels, waffles, pancakes, apples, grapes, cheese and more.
Second-grade teacher Megan Hendrix said, “You’d be surprised that getting breakfast can be a stressor for a little kid, especially if they don’t have a lot at home.” She added, “I also have three diabetics in class, so having breakfast right when they get off the bus is great.”
After observing the children eating breakfast in the classroom, the staff and administration spoke about the improvement in school breakfast participation and the positive outcomes of the initiative, now in its second year of operation. Speakers included Scott Wolfe, SLSD Federal Programs Director and Food Service Director; Tricia McNickle, Southern Local Elementary Principal; Tony Deem, Southern Local Schools Superintendent; Dennie Evans, Southern Local Schools Board Member; and Daniel Otto, Southern Local High School Principal.
With the help of CHA, the district received a $48,000 grant from Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom. The grant helped the district launch the initiative in the elementary school in the 2017-2018 school year and helped expand the program district-wide for their 740 students the following school year.
Wolfe said that the Breakfast in the Classroom initiative is more successful than the prior years’ when breakfast was served to all students in the cafeteria, which created logistical and emotional barriers. Today, 182 more kids eat breakfast than two years ago. “Providing kids the opportunity to eat in the classroom with their classmates eliminated many barriers, especially with the high school students. They feel more comfortable eating with their classmates, whom they consider family.”
McNickle said that having breakfast helps the kids stay focused especially during exams. “Our third graders are taking their state test today, they come in and they’re able to get focused right away because they had breakfast.”
While the breakfast initiative has certainly benefited the students; the administration and staff have also experienced improved teamwork and overall moral. Deem said, “From a management standpoint, it’s pulled my staff closer together, they work well together. Everybody has come around this initiative looking for ways to help. That wouldn’t have happened before. Our mornings start out smooth for everybody because of this.”
After observing the variety of hot and cold offerings and hearing about the success of the project, Mobley said, “You guys could really be a case study for the successful implementation of Breakfast in the Classroom participation. You’ve got to get everybody’s buy-in — the custodians, the teachers and the administration. Once you get everyone on the same page, they then realize what an amazing difference it makes for their kids.”
Studies have shown a link between eating breakfast and positive performance in school. Based on the district’s report, SLSD’s results support this case — tardiness is down, and attendance is up 2 percent over the past three years and school nurse visits for hunger and related stomach aches have decreased, especially before lunch.
“Federal nutrition funds for breakfast are retained by the school, which is great. We find the funding for grants and other contributions to support our current school breakfast advocacy work to expand our reach and feed more children,” Mobley said.
When asked why CHA’s mission important, Edwards said food insecurity is a major issue and is an obstacle for many children that must be addressed. “This is a critical issue for our region and for many areas of Ohio. I’m passionate about closing the opportunity gap and that includes removing the barriers to success, such as food insecurity. CHA’s work is an important part of what we’re doing to make a difference for children in Southeast Ohio.”
Information provided by the Children’s Hunger Alliance, Rick Jardiolin, Director of Marketing & Communications.