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Principal Perspective: Eliminating Hunger at School Produces Happier, Productive Students

By Karen Gregory, Principal, Maryvale Elementary School, Montgomery County, MD

Before our school was invited to participate in the Maryland Meals for Achievement (MMFA) program, many of our children came to school on a daily basis having had no food since the day before when they ate lunch at school. That is a kind of hunger most of us have never experienced.

It is hard to concentrate on learning when your tummy is rumbling with pangs of hunger!

Breakfast1Now that our school is part of MMFA, students are focused on getting to school and into the classroom to have breakfast with their friends. No more lingering in the hallways in the morning! While this may seem like a small change, it eliminates many of the unwanted behaviors that can occur during unstructured times, and it sets students up for a successful start to their day.

The primary change for our students has been the elimination of hunger, which had been a large factor in their young lives. Students are happier and more productive throughout their day.

We encourage our students to take advantage of the school breakfast program in several ways:

  • We advertise the breakfast program in our summer letter to parents and in our biweekly newsletter to parents.
  • We have created special roles for students to wheel the large carts back to the cafeteria after breakfast on a rotating basis, which has become a popular assignment.
  • As a “growth mindset” school, teachers have a series of mini lessons about how the brain “grows,” with one lesson focused on foods that help the brain develop.
  • We partner with Linkages to Learning to emphasize healthy eating and fitness habits.

Our school also has an annual “Week of Health” that includes discussions of healthy choices, healthy friendships, and healthy bodies at all grade levels (PreK-5). In previous years, many of our students were not actively engaged in the discussion about nutrition. How could they, when they were not exposed to nutritious meals on a regular basis and were often hungry during the school day?

Breakfast2We are finding that more students are aware of healthier food options, and how healthy eating habits make them feel better. Our breakfast program has been such a success, we found students interested in healthy lunches as well. With support from the school district’s Division of Food and Nutrition Services, a salad bar was added as a lunch option for students and staff members. Students were surveyed as to what vegetables should be included as part of the salad bar, so they truly felt like it was theirs.

Having MMFA at our school has helped staff to understand more deeply the impact of hunger on their students’ academic performance and well-being. It has helped the adults understand the need to look for possible underlying factors that may prohibit a child’s learning, and the importance of seeing the whole child.