The Role of Schools in Preventing Childhood Hunger

Op Ed - The Role of Schools in Preventing Childhood Hunger - David Bickford, Northfield, VT. - March 30, 2007

In a previous Op Ed we advanced the case that there is hunger among many children in Washington County.

The CHAIR (Community Hunger Assessment, Intervention, and Resources) group that has formed in Washington County has several times recently to fashion fundamental strategies and approaches to combat hunger in our region. One of the inescapable realities is the role that schools can and do play in ameliorating hunger and nutrition problems that face too many of our children.

Schools are places where all of our children come and spend a large part of every day making them a logical connection to promote nutrition and fight hunger. This is where they learn and play, and where they develop basic life skills and habits.

There has been great progress on the nutrition and hunger front in our schools over the last 15 years. Only 12% of schools in Vermont participated in both federal breakfast and lunch programs in 1990. Today about 90% of our schools offer those important options. And, over the last years, those meals have become more nutritious as there has been more and more concern about what effects childhood obesity and the ravages of junk food has had on the long term health of our children.

However, if we are to make progress on the nagging remainder of the children who still lack properly nutritious food and the quantities of food they need for healthy development of mind and body, we must stop to assess how we are doing in very specific terms in our schools.

Toward that end, we have sent letters to the six superintendents who are responsible for the 26 public schools in Washington County, and to the leaders and principals of the 8 independent schools in the county. We have asked them to invite representatives of our council to visit each and every school over the next months. Our objectives are straight forward. We would like to learn as much as we can about the numbers of children being served and quality of the food and related programs at the school, so that we can bring public credit and approbation to those many schools who are reaching as many of our children as possible with nutritious food and education about nutrition. We also would like to help those schools to gain access to existing federal funds and to provide technical assistance wherever needed and accepted.

Overall, we believe that engaging with our schools can result in improved opportunities for children who need better nutrition or simply need more food to make a measurable difference in their lives.

We want to partners with schools and say "We Feed All of our children in Washington County," and know that this is a first in Vermont.

David Bickford, Superintendent
Washington South Supervisory Union
Northfield, Vermont

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