Food Insecurity During the Holidays

Mondays are a very important day for many children who live in poverty and those that live in food insecure homes. For them on Mondays when they go back to childcare, pre-k, Head Start programs or public schools they have breakfast, lunch and snacks to look forward to after a weekend of not having had very much to eat.

The Monday after Thanksgiving is a particularly important day for those children and their teachers as Sam Chaltain explains in his blog in Education Week. Here is what he had to say this past Monday after the long Thanksgiving break.

 The Monday after Thanksgiving by Sam Chaltain

If you want to really understand what it’s like to be a teacher in American schools today, spend part of today in a public school with high concentrations of students living in poverty.

As any teacher will tell you in one of these schools – a growing number, thanks to the steady rise of the percentage of children living in dire conditions – the Monday after Thanksgiving is a particularly challenging (and important) day to be an educator. Whereas many of the children will be ready and eager to resume their school lives, some will return to classes having eaten little over the four-day break. And others will be numb from their extended stay in a world of chaos and dysfunction.

In these classrooms, teachers will spend the bulk of their day trying to meet these children’s myriad needs, none of which will have anything to do with reading and math. That doesn’t mean reading and math aren’t important, just as it doesn’t mean that a child’s social conditions should excuse schools from trying to develop their academic minds. It merely means that schools are living, breathing communities and if we want policies that improve them, we need to understand how they feel and how they work.

Poverty matters, in other words, and poverty is not an excuse.

What strikes me on this Monday after Thanksgiving is how much the essence of our current debates over American education have become intellectual abstractions. Education is always and inevitably a personal and social process. For communities and their children, going to school isn’t about raising national test scores or the merits of core standards. It’s about social aspirations and personal opportunity, public hopes and private fears. And as any teacher will tell you, it’s as much about ensuring that a hungry child is fed as it is about making them college- and career-ready.

Education is the land of the both/and, not the either/or.

Great schools give their students lots of different ways to celebrate their presence and engagement, and great policies don’t force schools to choose between their students’ social/emotional development and their overall effectiveness rating.

It’s simple, really – education is about real people leading real lives in real places. And if school doesn’t engage them, it doesn’t work, no matter what the accountants and policy makers may say.

Studies have found that food insecurity has been associated with health problems for children that may hinder their ability to function normally and participate fully in school and other activities.

  • Children who are food insecure are more likely to require hospitalization.
  • Children who are food insecure may be at higher risk for chronic health conditions, such as anemia, and asthma.
  • Children who are food insecure may have more frequent instances of oral health problems.
  • Food insecurity among young children is associated with poorer physical quality of life, which may prevent them from fully engaging in daily activities such as school and social interaction with peers.

Children from food insecure households are likely to be behind in their academic development compared to other children which ultimately makes it difficult for them to reach the same level of development as their fellow food secure peers.

Research conducted by Frongillo, Jyoti, and Jones 2005 found that food insecurity impairs academic development of young school-age children. This study revealed that the reading and mathematical skills of food insecure children entering kindergarten developed significantly more slowly than other children.

Children who experience food insecurity may be at higher risk for behavioral issues and social difficulties.

  • Food insecure children may be at greater risk of truancy and school tardiness.
  • When they are in school, children who are food insecure may experiences increases in an array of behavior problems including: fighting, hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety, mood swings, and bullying.

A new study, Map the Meal Gap, released by Feeding America shows that children continue to struggle with hunger in every county in the nation. More than 1,000 counties have more than one in four children who are at risk of hunger.