- Thousands of school districts nationwide in both urban and rural locales approach summer meal programs for low-income students in a variety of ways, utilizing funding from a 48-year-old federal program aimed at staving off the negative educational and quality-of-life impacts of hunger, District Administration reports.
- Over 22 million students received free or reduced-price lunches under the National School Lunch Program in the 2015-16 school year, highlighting the need for summer meal programs to prevent hunger during those months, as well.
- While it's noted that data supporting the benefits of summer meal programs is lacking, administrators say students are happier and better-prepared to learn when they're not hungry, and Feeding America's Ross Fraser told District Administration that a lack of nourishment can have sustained impacts on a child's mental and physical growth.
District Administration offers a variety of tips for administrators looking to launch their own, including seeking the help of the state education department, starting on paperwork and permission forms early, starting at a few schools and working your way up, and consulting with outside community groups for support.
Food insecurity is a lingering issue for a variety of districts nationwide, and each addresses it in different ways. For many, backpack programs — which send some students home with backpacks full of food on weekends — have become a popular way of filling students' nutritional gaps.
And despite the reported lack of data, administrators in many districts have seen tangible benefits from these meal programs, citing better attendance rates and fewer students visiting the school nurse.
Experts including NYU education historian Diane Ravitch have also frequently noted the negative impacts of poverty on educational achievement. Efforts to address students' socioeconomic disadvantages, including hunger, could ultimately do more to raise achievement than any classroom-based reforms, as it stands within reason that a child who isn't able to eat a meal regularly is probably going to be sick more often and generally less able to focus on school work.
Where funding from the state and federal levels fails to help schools meet these needs, administrators should seek partners in the community for resources, including volunteers. A holistic approach to meeting students' needs help ensure that all are fully equipped to reach their full potentials.