District 203 teachers see it every day.
Distraction. Difficulty focusing on the lesson. Behavior that disrupts the classroom. And
eventually the teacher will send the student down to the office.
But instead of going to see the principal, the student steps through
the door of the health office. And the nurse hears the question that sheís come to expect: "My stomach hurts. Can I have something
Over the past decade, the number of people in the western suburbs who donít have enough to eat has risen sharply, especially
with the impact of the economic downturn in 2008. And for students who are trying to learn, an empty, growling stomach is a serious
"If they donít have breakfast for whatever reason, their attention is not where it should be," says Jeanette Harris, Supervisor
of Health Services for District 203. "Their behavior can be off, their attendance is affected. If you spoke to any one of the school
nurses, theyíre going to say that itís an issue on a daily basis."
But for the past six years, the Naperville Education Foundation
(NEF) has made an impact on this growing issue of hungry students with their Breakfast Program -- recently renamed the "Start the
The situation first came to NEFís attention seven years ago when a teacher at Beebe applied for a grant to feed the
students in her classroom who were coming to school without breakfast. This particular grant wasnít funded, but Debbie Shipley, a
former school board member and current NEF Trustee, said "In reviewing the grant, we wanted to see what we could do to find out about
They discovered that all the schools were having kids come down to the health offices complaining about feeling faint
or having stomach aches, all of which were tied back to the fact that they werenít having anything for breakfast. So the schools
were handling it as best they could, with a nurse or assistant principal taking on the job of having something around to hand out
to these students when they came down to the nurse. In many cases parents or Home & School would bring in donations.
by funding the Title 1 schools in District 203. Shipley had initially tried to bring food to the schools herself, buying granola bars
from Loaves and Fishes, but quickly ran up against the issue of allergies, "so then it was more on the schools to get their ownÖNutri-Grain
bars are the only breakfast bar we found" not made in a facility with nuts.
They began giving money directly to the schools, putting
it in their allied accounts for them to purchase snacks as they needed them, and eventually went from just Title 1 schools to all
the elementary and junior high schools. NEF now puts $10,000 a year toward the "Start the Day" program. Shipley says "A lot of these
schools spend more than what we give them," adding that individual parents and staff still often supplement with their own donations.
District 203 doesnít currently have the federal breakfast program in the schools, although Harris says they have considered it. But
implementing any federal program comes with its own set of rules, regulations and expenses, and the beauty of NEFís program is its
simplicity and flexibility.
"We didnít really put any criteria" on how the schools could use the food, Shipley says. Itís not always
used at breakfast; often itís a mid-day snack or brought out during the schoolís Study Skills Academy. "And itís not just for free
and reduced students, itís for anyone that might come to school hungry. It could be your child, my child."
Jessica Jozwiak, NEF Trustee
and Programs Committee chair, has experienced this first hand. One time her daughter went off to Kennedy without eating breakfast,
and found herself feeling sick in the middle of class. "She went to the nurse and they gave her some food, so it really is for anyone."
Harris agrees, saying itís not always the at-risk kids who are coming in to the health office and that there are many reasons why
students might skip a meal. "They donít have time, or they werenít hungry that morning, soÖwe offer it to everybody." Proper nutrition
affects behavior, tardiness, attention in the classroom and all of these things affect student achievement.
But ultimately itís the
at-risk population that is driving the need for this program in our district. With the numbers climbing of students who qualify for
free and reduced lunch, Jozwiak is excited that NEF is partnering with Loaves and Fishes to bring a bigger, better program to our
kids. The Programs Committee is in the process of working out details with Harris to add fresh fruits and vegetables to the offerings,
and will be piloting this new direction next year in two schools.
As all the research points to the benefit of students coming to
school with a full stomach, ready to learn, NEFís "Start the Day" program provides a vital safety net for District 203ís struggling
families. Harris says, "We just want to make sure that if a student is hungry that weíre satisfying that need in order for them to
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