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Hungry kids can't learn.

Byline: The Register-Guard

A hungry child is a child who's going to have trouble learning, which is why the Eugene School District is smart to open its free breakfast program to all elementary school students this fall.

More than half of the district's elementary school students already qualify for free, or reduced-price, meals based on factors such as family income. But in order to receive this help, parents have to know it's available, know how to find out if their children qualify, and know how to apply for these benefits.

Those who make it over these hurdles still have to contend with a different type of barrier, a social one. Children dread feeling different, or being looked down on, and other children can be cruel. A 2013 Minnesota study found that many students who were eligible for free breakfasts avoided them because of the stigma.

By offering a free breakfast to every elementary school child, the Eugene School District is removing both the bureaucratic and social barriers to children receiving proper nutrition, including those whose families barely missed qualifying for assistance under the previous guidelines.

The school district estimates that an additional 200 to 300 students are likely to start eating breakfast at school this year under the new program. A number will be low-income or otherwise qualify for federal subsidies, however, which will bring more federal money into the district, helping some school meal programs that are currently operating at a deficit.

Making sure that all elementary school children, the youngest and most vulnerable in the district, have proper nutrition benefits not just the school system, but the entire community.

On average, it costs Oregon taxpayers more than $11,000 per year to educate one child in public school, according to census and other figures. It makes no sense to invest this kind of money in education and then undermine the result by ignoring the role that nutrition plays in whether, and how much, a student learns.

Multiple studies have found that good nutrition, particularly a healthy breakfast, helps children's brains develop properly and results in better concentration, improved learning, higher attendance, better performance on standardized tests and fewer disciplinary problems. (The nonprofit Wilder Foundation provides an overview of some of these studies at bit.ly/2mOuplO.)

Making sure that children have proper nutrition - school district menus include items such as whole-grain oatmeal or pancakes and fresh fruit - is an investment in the future. These children are the next generation of workers, taxpayers, voters and volunteers. Education is the key that unlocks the doors for them, whether they go immediately into the workforce after high school or continue with their education.

Making sure that they have the nutrition they need to learn should be a community-wide concern.

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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 4, 2017
Words:458
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