Hungry children have difficulty learning
By Meghan O’Hara, junior English major
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) childhood hunger has been increasing every year since 2000. In 2009, The Times-Tribune reported that 32 out of 37 school districts in northeast Pennsylvania failed to meet the state average score for the SAT. Teachers, nurses, and doctors alike all agree that hunger affects children’s ability to learn and comprehend.
Renee Iezzi, Dunmore Elementary Center nurse, has seen an increase in the early morning breakfast and free lunch program.
“It used to just be a few [children] but now the number is really high,” said Iezzi.
In Dunmore School District the number of students getting a free or discounted lunch is under 25 percent but continues to rise.
Empty stomachs negatively impacts learning
Iezzi also said that going hungry or not eating the proper food has an impact on the children’s education, explaining that kids who are hungry often don’t feel well. They get stomachaches and headaches and have to go to her office to lie down. Whenever they are in her office they are missing class and missing the chance to learn.
Molly McAuliffe, a gym teacher at Dunmore Elementary Center, said that hungry children are not able to give school their full attention. “If a student is constantly hungry, he is going to be paying attention to his stomach, he will be lose focus,” she said.
But she doesn’t blame it on the families or parents.
“Its hard for some families,” added McAuliffe. “Maybe the parents are working and they don’t have the time to make sure the children are getting what they need”
Hunger creates socialization challenges
Hunger and malnourishment in children doesn’t only effect their education but also their ability to socialize.
The APA says that children living in poverty are more likely to suffer from emotional and behavioral problems. The school psychologist from Dunmore Elementary Center, Amy Ferguson, M.S., says that bullying tends to be a problem as well.
“They are more likely to be targeted by other kids. Proportionally, those kids that come from lower incomes fall under one of two categories. They are either the bully of the bullied,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson added that hungry kids also tend to have low self-esteem, which the APA said is more likely to happen to those in poverty.
“A lot of these kids, if they don’t have self-confidence, they don’t know how to go up to a kid and say, ‘Will you play with me?’” Ferguson said.
She often finds herself having to interact with teachers and other students to get the children to socialize with others, explaining that it takes a lot of adult intervention to get them to include their peers.
Malnutrition has long-lasting effects on development
Dr. Mike Bossak, a pediatrician in Georgia, has seen many malnourished children in his practice. He said that if a child doesn’t get the proper nutrition as they grow the effects can last a lifetime.
“I haven’t seen any studies that show this, but I believe that a small amount of malnutrition has a long range impact on a child’s development. Kids who are severely malnourished are going to have neurodevelopment problems because their brains never received the proper amounts of nutrients.” He explained that as children grow, if they don’t receive the proper nutrients, they are going to have trouble being active enough for and education. This is because their ability to focus and memorize will be lacking.
Dr. Bossak also said that many times when parents or guardians are having trouble providing for their children that development isn’t the number one issue. In these families the children might develop a speech development disorder.
“[The children] may not speak as well because their parents aren’t spending time speaking to them, talking to them or reading with them because they are spending their time trying to get a job or trying to put food on the table when they have the chance,” he added.
Iezzi felt that a child going hungry or not eating properly is not able to perform in the classroom. “If you don’t put gas in your car you can’t move. If you don’t have proper nutrition you can’t learn,” said Iezzi.