All you have to do is turn on the TV, glance at the cover of a magazine or walk down the street to see it, splashed across the front of a dramatic image: The Hunger Games. The popular movie, adapted from Suzanne Collins’ same-titled young-adult novel, made millions at the box office its opening weekend. But for the 16 million children in America who struggle every day with not having enough to eat, there’s nothing game-like about hunger.

65 percent of America’s teachers regularly see kids who come to school hungry because they aren’t getting enough to eat at home, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger.

If we want to improve the education system, we must ensure that every student is nourished. A hungry child can’t concentrate on math class, because he’s thinking about what’s for lunch. A hungry child acts out with classmates, because her starving brain simply can’t focus. A hungry child is more likely to be late for school and sleep in class, because the body requires too much energy to wake up and stay alert.

Although most schools provide lunch – and sometimes even breakfast and a snack – kids need continual nourishment. Weekends are especially difficult for children who may go two and a half days without eating a full meal. One 4th grade teacher in rural New York noticed that every Monday a certain student acted out, but by Tuesday morning – after being fed breakfast, lunch and a snack by the school on Monday – he was calm. Once the school began sending backpacks of food home with needy students every Friday, she saw a “dramatic change” in not only that student, but other students as well.

Sometimes students will tell teachers they’re hungry, but many times they won’t. Teachers, take note of the following signs of hunger from Strength.org. A student who is hungry may:

  • Suffer from poor health, feels sick or tired often
  • Sleep in class
  • Have difficulty with math and language skills
  • Be aggressive and fight with classmates and teachers
  • Feel anxious and have difficulty concentrating
  • Under-perform and have poor grades
  • Frequently miss school or arrive late

If you notice a student displaying these behaviors, it could be a result of hunger. If you discover that it is, look for resources at your school, local food bank or local nonprofit and on the web at strength.org/teachers.

How have you seen students affected by hunger? What is your school or community doing to keep kids nourished?

 

Childhood hunger doesn’t just affect elementary school students. It’s also an issue many college students face. Stay tuned for our future blog, “Hungry for Learning or Just Hungry?” which explores the issue of hunger in higher education.