The number of children using Conway schools to get breakfasts is rising, elementary school officials said Friday.
"We couldn’t stand to see any kids not having breakfast before school," said Tammy Woosley, principal at Theodore Jones Elementary School. "If they come to class hungry, it’s harder for them to learn."
School officials say students struggle with emotions, lethargy and focus when they come to school hungry. Learning sags, Woosley said.
On Monday and Tuesday this week, Woosley’s school served about 100 schoolchildren breakfast. By Friday, that number was 200 at breakfast. Nationwide, teachers worry students are still coming to school hungry, according to a new national survey released this week by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.
About three out of five teachers surveyed in the report said they have students coming to school hungry, according to the report, but hunger among school children is not new, principals said. Conway schools are actively finding ways to feed children, they said.
Woosley’s school serves breakfast, keeps snacks for children and sends food home to needy families every Friday. Woosley is looking at a program that would allow late children to eat in the classroom so they didn’t miss any coursework, she said.
In part, childhood hunger in schools is related to poverty, national and local officials said.
Across the Conway Public Schools, about 45 percent of students were eligible to participate in free or reduced lunches last year. At Theodore, about 72 percent are on the program, Woosley said.
Last year, Theodore Jones sent home 160 food bags for needy families. At one point, about half of the school’s 410 students were in the cafeteria for breakfast — so many that older students had to be moved to a different location so everyone could eat, Woosley said.
At Carolyn Lewis Elementary School, on Friday, between 150 and 175 schoolchildren ate breakfast, dining on biscuits and gravy, juice and milk for $1.25, principal Tina Antley said. She estimated about half of the 450 children at Carolyn Lewis, which opened this year, will use the free or reduced lunch program.
"There’s always been a need, and schools have always been institutions sensitive to the needs of children," Antley said.
At Sallie Cone Elementary — now repurposed — the school also sent home food for families, Antley said. Carolyn Lewis will begin that program this year, she said.
Teachers also donate their own money for children whose accounts at school are in the negative, Antley said. Churches and a nonprofit donate to send food home, Woosley said. Other people in the community donate for lunches, Antley said.
Schools are dealing well with the hunger problem, Woosley said. And, parents are changing, working more, becoming busier and relying more on school breakfasts, principals said. Teachers send their children to eat breakfast at school. Affluent people, in a hurry to get to work, send their children to eat at school, too, Antley said.
Both principals said hunger remains a problem in schools, but society has become much more aware. The stigma of eating breakfast at school has dissipated, Antley said.
"This is not new at all," Woosley said. "Every school has children who are in need of food."