The Maryland PTA is a nonprofit association of parents, educators, students and other citizens active in their schools and communities, and a leader in reminding our nation of its obligations to children. It is our state’s chapter of the National PTA, the largest volunteer child advocacy association in the United States.
Sounds like a great partner for an organization that’s working to end childhood hunger, right?
The Maryland No Kid Hungry campaign works to connect more children and families to federal nutrition programs like school breakfast, with a primary goal of ensuring that 70% of children receiving a free or reduced-price school lunch are also receiving a free or reduced-price school breakfast. The Maryland PTA is an example of a partner who may not work directly on our issues, but has access to a broad swath of ‘influencers’ for our work. And indeed, since our partnership began last spring, it has been mutually beneficial and enjoyable.
First, some stats on childhood hunger in Maryland:
- There are more than 251,000 children in Maryland who are at risk of hunger
- Share Our Strength conducted a nationwide survey of K-8 teachers and principals and found that three out of four say they have students who regularly come to school hungry. In Maryland, the findings show that 63% of Maryland teachers see hungry kids in their classroom.
- Of the 857,050 students enrolled in Maryland schools in 2011-2012, 42.9% (369,619) qualify for free or reduced-price meals
A big thrust of our work nationally and in Maryland happens around school breakfast. We’ve found that tight schedules and fear of stigma keep many students from getting a healthy breakfast in the cafeteria. Nationally, of the 21 million students who receive a free or reduced-price school lunch only half (11 million) also receive a school breakfast, and in Maryland the numbers are similar with only 56.6% of students who are eligible getting a school breakfast.
When we rethink school breakfast and make it part of the school day, whether that’s by bringing it into the classroom or creating ‘breakfast after the bell’ in the hallway after first period, participation rates increase. Research conducted by Deloitte shows that students who start the school day with a healthy breakfast attend more days of class and score 17.5% higher on math tests. Studies show that students who attend more days of school are 20% more like to graduate from high school. That means a stronger workforce and more competitive Maryland.
The leadership of the Maryland PTA gets it, and has championed our work on school breakfast. At the state government level, the PTA supported our push to increase funding in the Maryland Meals for Achievement Program, an innovative Breakfast in the Classroom program offered in high-need schools across Maryland. We were thrilled that the Assembly voted to approve this budget and tens of thousands of additional children are now starting their day with a healthy breakfast.
In turn, No Kid Hungry has supported Maryland PTA. We were proud to sponsor the 98th Annual Convention in July, where I presented to members of local PTAs about how to be part of the solution to end childhood hunger in Maryland. This was an excellent opportunity to gain local support from local PTAs, which are actively considering ways that they can support the fight against childhood hunger at the school-based levels. We are also involved in supporting the WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students) initiative, and look forward to future opportunities for collaboration and mutual support.
We talk a lot about finding partners in the ‘unusual suspects.’ The Maryland PTA is a perfect example of that.
What can your PTA do to surround children at risk of hunger with nutritious food where they live, learn and play? Add your voice to those of the 300,000+ people who have taken the No Kid Hungry Pledge at www.NoKidHungry.org. And if you’re based in Maryland, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information to get involved.
Molly McCloskey is the Director of the Maryland No Kid Hungry Campaign.