On May 23, 2007, 15-year-old Jordan Manners was gunned down in a school in one of Toronto’s most troubled neighborhoods. The death followed on the heels of a 2006 Student Census that showed students in Toronto’s gritty Jane-Finch corridor were coming to school without breakfast. It was a wake-up call for the district
As Jessica Leeder explained in an October 2011 report for The Globe and Mail:
Instead of putting in metal detectors in the area’s schools, they came up with a unique, softer approach to reducing aggression and improving concentration in the classroom: food.
“The administrators wanted a nutrition program – they wanted to make sure every kid was fed,” said Mena Paternostro, co-ordinator of student nutrition with the Toronto District School Board. “They came out loud and clear and told us a hungry kid was an angry kid.”
The school board asked its Toronto Foundation for Student Success to raise funds for an initiative called Feeding Our Future. By fall of 2008, thousands of students in seven schools were starting the day with a healthy breakfast. Parents, teachers, students and community volunteers pitched in to provide nearly 1.25 million meals every year.
Now the Toronto District School Board has released a report, “Feeding Our Future: The First- and Second-Year Evaluation,” that shows how well that investment in time and dollars has paid off. Administrators, teachers and staff cited benefits in four areas that are a constant concern in schools:
- improved student behaviour or attitude;
- reduced tardiness;
- reduced incidence of disciplinary problems; and
- improved ability to stay on task.
Besides analyzing the anecdotal responses, the evaluators looked at more concrete indicators. They found, for example, that 61% of the students in Grades 7 and 8 who ate the school breakfast most days of the week met or exceeded the provincial standard on their report cards. By comparison, only 50% of students who seldom or never ate the morning meal met the standard. Suspensions dropped; graduation rates climbed. Breakfast made a difference.
Life is not easy in the neighborhoods surrounding these schools. Serving children breakfast does not solve all the issues their families face, but food is the body’s fuel. A healthy breakfast can help students climb over one of the barriers to success, and the report offers many suggestions for making the program even more effective.
Every child whose academic achievement is improved even a small amount has a better shot at life. That is a smart investment.
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Photo from U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr Creative Commons