This past week, I had the privilege to speak at the annual Nourish NC gala. It was great event that raised support and awareness for a more than worthy cause – childhood hunger. The information that was presented during the gala is worth sharing with the entire education community. So, I have decided to post it here as part of my Superintendent’s Blog. The facts are staggering and to some may be surprising, but regardless of how advanced our society has become, children – right here in New Hanover County and across the country – struggle with hunger each and every day.
“Make It Happen”
I am pleased and honored to address the important role that the Nourish NC is playing to help reduce hunger through its backpack initiative. When Steve reached out to me to speak tonight, he asked that I share some words of wisdom. I am not sure I fit the bill as a wise man, but I can share some data about childhood hunger and how it impacts us daily here in New Hanover County.
The problem of childhood hunger cannot be underrated. There are currently 15.7 million children living in poverty. That is more than 1 in 4 children. Overall, over 16 million struggle with hunger. These children live without food in insecure households and struggle with hunger throughout the year.
Over 20 million school-age children get a free or reduced-price lunch on an average day. There are another 10 million children, who are eligible for school breakfast, who do not receive it. Children who struggle with hunger are at greater risk for health problems. They are sick more often, recover more slowly and are more like to be absent from school. They experience more headaches, colds and infections.
Children who are hungry are more susceptible to obesity and its harmful effects, which will last well into adulthood. Children ages 0 to 3 do not learn as much and as fast as children who are well nourished; they also develop at a slower rate.
Here in New Hanover County, 41% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch – more than 11,000 children. Along with this, we have over 900 students who are identified as homeless. In some of our schools, as many as 25% of students will change schools during the year because they cannot afford housing. This type of stress can only exacerbate the effects of hunger.
School children who face hunger are more likely to be retained and repeat a grade. These students have significantly higher levels of behavioral, emotional and academic problems. They also tend to be more aggressive and anxious. High poverty schools have a higher rate of students who are identified as special education. Teens who do not get enough to eat are more likely to be suspended from school and have difficulty getting along with others. This is just a short list of problems that students face when they do not know where their next meal is coming from.
It is no surprise that when I look a school grades issued by the State that they are more of a reflection of the community’s poverty than of academic potential. When you are worried about where your next meal is coming from, you are less likely to worry about homework assignments or about paying attention in school. That does not mean you don’t want to learn or aren’t learning, it just means you have another obstacle to overcome.
Every year, New Hanover County Schools selects a theme to help bring focus to the school year. This year, we choose the theme of MAKE IT HAPPEN. This comes from a quote by Laney Alum Michael Jordan who once said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”
Nourish NC is one of those organizations that does more than wish it would happen. It is an organization that MAKES IT HAPPEN. They are working to alleviate these terrible hunger statistics. They serve students in 38 schools and reach nearly a 1,000 students each week and during holiday and summer breaks. In their nine year history, they have continued to expand their outreach and now serve students in after school programs and in numerous community-based programs.
The Nourish NC operation is pretty amazing. Last November, all of our school principals visited the Nourish NC warehouse as part of the district’s United Way campaign kickoff. The principals had the opportunity to see in person the difference the organization makes in the lives of our children. They packed food that would go home that evening with students in their schools. Our counselors can attest to the impact of Nourish NC and the support it provides for our students. The simple act of handing out backpack meals makes it happen for students in our schools.
I hope you will join Nourish NC tonight in MAKING IT HAPPEN for children in New Hanover County.
Here is a link to Nourish NC - https://nourishnc.org/ – so that you can learn more about the program!