By Vejay Steede
The correlation between concentration and hunger is well documented: a body that needs sustenance is routinely incapable of performing at an optimal level, let alone a level anywhere near efficient enough to withstand the rigours of an intense academic program.
Any behaviour therapist worth their weight in salt (which I am) will tell you that a hungry student is a student who will have difficulty focussing, settling, regulating their behaviour, and even functioning in a classroom setting.
If hunger happens to be paired with a behavioural condition like oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), then an acute risk of highly disruptive or explosive behaviour can manifest. Even as adults, mood regulation and explosiveness can often be linked directly to hunger.
There is, after all, plenty of weight behind the term “hangry.”
Suffice it to say, avoiding hunger in schools is a very high priority. No student can focus on academic concerns when they are distracted by hunger pangs, and schools need to recognize that student hunger needs to be made extinct if academic progress is expected.
The Student Services department at the Berkeley institute knows this well. Charged with helping students with behavioural challenges to function in class and around school, the department goes above and beyond to provide brown bag lunches for students who need extra food to help them cope.
Knowing the strong link between hunger and mood imbalances, the Student Services department takes the brilliant measure of actively eliminating hunger and thereby removing a common trigger for volatile students.
Of course, the actual food that is provided for students is very important as well. The Department of Health advises parents to send their children to school with lunches packed with fresh fruits, yogurts, whole grain breads, light, health-conscious snacks, and plenty of water.
Many primary schools in Bermuda have completely banned any liquid refreshment but water, including fruit juices. This is a great development, and a big step along the road to creating healthy, strong, emotionally well-balanced adults. Modern drinks are often riddled with sugar (especially fruit juices), which have also been known to trigger hyperactivity and mood imbalances in children.
One area where local primary schools could improve, however, is with their hot lunch programs. These programs are optional and are designed to help parents with weekly lunch planning. As a parent myself, I can say that I very much appreciate the efforts made by school staff to provide periodic hot lunches. The issue, however, is that these lunches often consist of less-than-nutritious components like hot dogs, chicken burgers, and pizza.
In France, elementary schools are built with full-service kitchens designed to prepare hot lunches for students daily. The meals produced in these kitchens are nutritious, delicious, and culturally rich. It’s no wonder, then, that France is celebrated for its unique and decadent cuisine; their people are fed extremely well throughout their lives. This, of course, while ideal, would involve a wholesale cultural sea change; a paradigm shift we’re probably not likely to see in our lifetimes.
We can, however, start to put more emphasis on the importance of food and nutrition to the human condition. From production, to preparation, to consumption, food needs to be an integral part of any system of education.
The Coalition for the Protection of Children (CPC) knows the importance of food and nutrition for school-aged children, and they’ve developed some excellent programs aimed at providing a solid nutritional foundation for local students.
Program Coordinator Denae D. Burchall describes several of the CPC initiatives: “Our Food Storehouse provides essential grocery items to families with children ages 0-17 in their care. In addition to providing groceries, we also engage clients in support services to address the gaps that cause them to seek food aid.
“Additionally, we run our Breakfast for Every Child Program in 17 public pre, middle, and primary schools. The program provides cereal, granola, juice, and fruit daily. The program is open to all students no matter their socioeconomic status and does not require a formal sign-up. We strategically ensure that the program is universal so that there is no stigma attached to accessing breakfast at school.”
The CPC is very willing to help in the battle against student mood imbalances and the pitfalls that come with having “hangry” children in your school, and sourcing that help is easy. Ms Burchall continues:
“To access assistance from CPC, clients must schedule an intake appointment with one of our workers. Clients can contact us via 295-1150 or email at [email protected]. Additionally, prospective clients may Whatsapp 732- 1155 or 705-2672 to set up an appointment.
“Our Breakfast for Every Child Program can operate at any public school that expresses interest. If you are a parent, teacher, or staff member and would like the breakfast program to operate at your school, please contact Denae Burchall via 295-1150. Breakfast support can also be provided on an individual basis.”
This is the kind of program that should be operating daily in every school across the island as breakfast is a fundamentally vital meal; a meal that goes missed by far too many students daily. Making breakfast a communal act in schools would be an amazing initiative, providing bonding time for students and staff, opportunities to develop soft skills like manners and table etiquette, and even curriculum enhancements like food preparation and service.
Back in France, school mealtimes are integral parts of the curriculum, which nurtures a lifelong appreciation, respect, and love of food and healthy eating. Making time for meals and building curriculum and community around meals in schools would raise our nutritional intellect and make us more mindful of how the things we eat can absolutely impact how we’re able to live our lives.
In the meantime, support systems like Student Services departments in schools and the Coalition for the Protection of Children must continue to be acknowledged and celebrated for the quietly vital resources they provide.