Kids who go to school hungry lose an average of 132 minutes of learning time each day — or the equivalent of four months of the school year — according to a survey of hundreds of teachers across the country.
Kellogg Canada surveyed more than 400 middle, elementary and high school teachers between July 18 and 25. In the Breakfasts for Better Days survey, 42 per cent of teachers reported that they see kids attending school hungry every day.
Maureen Yates, the principal of Sherwood School in Edmonton, has seen the impact first-hand during her 29-year career in schools.
“We see a lot of off-task behaviour, so you’ll see that they can’t quite focus as well as they should be,” Yates said. “They’re not as ‘bright’ or with it, in being able to present and do their work.”
At the beginning of the school year, Yates sends a letter to parents notifying them about a breakfast program at the school. About one quarter the school’s 160 students arrive hungry for breakfast.
“We don’t know the circumstances of the parent and what happens at home… I do believe that there are families that are really, really struggling.”
The program is supported in part by Breakfast Club of Canada, which funds breakfasts for students at 1,400 schools in Canada. Every day, its programs feed 165,000 kids — that’s more than the entire population of Prince Edward Island. And the need is growing — there are 500 schools on the non-profit organization’s waiting list.
“We want to make sure that by feeding them in a public place — a school — we give them access to their own dream and break the circle of poverty in which sometimes they are caught from one generation to another,” club founder Daniel Germain said.
“It’s just the right thing to do.”
Hunger doesn’t just make it hard for children to focus, it affects their mood. In the survey, 86 per cent of teachers reported hungry students were more likely to participate in bullying than their peers. Seventy three per cent of teachers said those students were more easily angered or annoyed.
Davinia Swan, 5, says she feels “sad” when she’s trying to listen in class but feels distracted by a hungry tummy. The kindergartener’s mother, Erica, was laid off from a job in Alberta’s oilfield in May.
As a single parent of two, Swan says she recently cut phone and internet access to make ends meet.
Davinia’s school offers a breakfast program every morning. The selection includes pancakes, cereal, bananas and other healthy choices.
“This is a big, big help,” Swan said. “It’s getting tight now.”
In the survey, 98 per cent of teachers with a breakfast club in their school said the program has a positive impact.