Six months ago, teachers at an elementary school in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Denver (Colorado) noticed that hundreds of the students faced hunger and poverty, thus creating a challenging environment for learning and for productive social interactions. Six months later, teachers and parents working together have begun to change that alarming situation.
“The barriers that once stopped our kids and youth from having access to the free breakfast at school no longer exist. The students no longer need to choose between eating breakfast or playing with their friends before class,” said Jodie Carrigan, principal of Doull Elementary School, of Denver Public Schools (DPS).
Of the 522 students attending that school, 89 percent are Hispanic and 90 percent belong to low-income families (that is, families qualifying for free or reduced-cost meals). In fact, according to Carrigan, 55 of those families live in extreme poverty, defined by the educator in practical terms as, “If they don’t receive the food we give them at school, even over the weekend, those kids don’t eat.”
Helping the community, said Carrigan, is the focus of what the teachers and the staff are doing at Doull Elementary.
“Six months ago, some of the teachers weren’t really convinced with the idea of serving breakfast in the classroom during school hours. They thought it would take away teaching time along with how the kids acted and the cleanliness of the room,” explained Carrigan.
“But the exact opposite happened,” she said.
Every morning, DPS staff distribute food in each classroom. Each student then takes what he or she wishes. When they have finished eating, the students throw away their trash in a specific trashcan, almost immediately removed from the classroom by DPS staff.
“The students are behaving better than before they had breakfast in the classroom. The teachers don’t need to serve the breakfast and they are not involved in cleaning up afterwards. That’s why they have more time to speak with the parents of the students at the beginning of the day”, said Kyle Schwartz, a third-grade teacher at Doull Elementary.
“Breakfast is no longer eaten quickly or missed entirely. That really pleases the family. Teaching time isn’t lost as the kids are more ready to learn,” she said.
Last August, when a new state law went into effect allowing breakfast in the classroom during school hours, only 100 students from Doull Elementary received that free breakfast. Now, after changing the location of the breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom and changing the time of the breakfast, over 400 students have access to those meals.
“Sharing the meals together helps create a sense of community,” said Schwartz.
Yet, many children still face hunger or food insecurity. “We are all here because we want to eliminate that situation. This is the best job we could have,” said principal Carrigan.
The original article was contributed by Francisco Miraval for publication by EFE News Agency in several Hispanic/Latino news outlets.