Back to School Hunger: Addressing a Hidden Educational Barrier

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As summer comes to an end and the excitement of a new academic year begins, it’s important to remember that for many students, the return to school also signifies the return of a concerning issue: back-to-school hunger. While the sight of bustling hallways and eager learners may seem promising, hunger is an often-overlooked reality impacting numerous students statewide.

School supply lists have items like pencils, markers, and notebooks – all the tools a child needs to be successful in school. But something important is missing. Students need food to perform their best in class. When school resumes, these students face the challenge of returning to the classroom on an empty stomach, significantly impacting their learning capabilities.

Recent studies tell us this may be the most expensive year for back-to-school shopping in history:

  • In May 2023, the average family of four spent $285 more on groceries than in May 2021, according to the USDA.
  • According to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation, families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $890.07 on back-to-school items this year.

Childhood hunger as a hidden educational barrier has far-reaching consequences on students’ academic performance and overall well-being. Hunger affects cognitive abilities, concentration, memory, and problem-solving skills. A hungry child may find it challenging to focus in class, leading to a decline in academic achievements and potentially widening the achievement gap between low-income and more affluent students. Not to mention distracting other kids.

Apart from academic consequences, hunger can also cause emotional and behavioral problems. Children experiencing food insecurity might feel embarrassed or socially isolated, impacting their self-esteem and motivation to participate in school activities. Moreover, hunger may exacerbate stress and anxiety, making it harder for students to cope with everyday challenges, including schoolwork.

Back-to-school hunger is a pressing issue that demands our attention and action. No child should be forced to learn on an empty stomach. Your gift of food, time, or money is not just about providing sustenance – it’s also about nurturing a brighter future for our students.