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What HUNGER IS to an Elementary School Principal

May 16, 2014

Lilah Ross, principal of Masters Preparatory School in Miami, deals with hungry children on a daily basis.

Masters Preparatory School in Miami enrolls 400 students in grades K-8 and an additional 85 students to their day care program. Principal Lilah Ross can tell you two things she is certain will happen at her school. Every year she will cry at the 8th grade graduation because she is so proud of each student. And every day she will see children who are hungry, undernourished, and lack focus because they’re not being fed enough at home.

“It’s a huge educational problem,” Ms. Ross explains. “If you are hungry that will be your primary concern and it will be difficult to focus because your basic needs are not met.

Masters Preparatory School serves a very low-income population: most of the families are on government assistance and receive special state-funded grants for their children to attend. The school is able to offer free breakfast, which Ms. Ross explains, helps families stretch their food during the week.  But she has additional concerns about nutritional education and what the children do for nourishment over the weekend.

“I have students who eat chips for breakfast or who have never seen a banana and will ask what it is,” she says. “Good eating habits need to be reinforced from a young age at home because children will pick and choose what they eat when they get to school.”

More serious than the nutritional value of the food, Ms. Ross has seen the effects of hunger lead to violence at home. “One of my students spilled the food the family had for dinner, and it caused a much larger issue. We quickly had to involve outside resources because  it became clear that the family didn’t have enough food.”

With younger students, hunger is typically easier to identify because they aren’t afraid to complain nor are they capable of hiding the clear indicators of inattention to nutrition. “But, older students are embarrassed and ashamed they are hungry,” she explains. “It becomes more difficult to identify the older children who are suffering with daily hunger.”

However, when the school is able to identify and rectify issues of hunger, Ms. Ross has seen it make a tremendous difference in both grades and behavior for specific students. “I have seen students make amazing strides academically when we can assist with a hunger issue.”

According to Ms. Ross, Principal of Masters Preparatory School, HUNGER IS:
“A real issue that needs to be addressed. There’s a great toll that hunger takes on education. Teachers have a very difficult job and it makes it even more difficult when they are dealing with students who have empty stomachs.”