Denver mom and health justice advocate Graciela Baeza says there is no good reason not to feed kids breakfast in the classroom if schools want to improve academic performance.

Every child has a basic right to healthy food and a healthy life. As a parent and a community leader with Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, I work with other parents and neighborhood leaders to fight for health justice in our communities and to ensure that all children have the access to healthy food that they need to succeed.

Students at a Denver middle school get a quick breakfast at the school’s grab-and-go cart. <em>EdNews</em> file photo.

With a third of all children in Denver living in poverty, low-income families are struggling to obtain their basic needs and access to healthy food. The current economic crisis has forced many parents to work multiple jobs to be able to support their families. Either because of the lack of time or the economic situation they live in, many parents find it difficult to provide breakfast for their children.

A hungry child does not have the ability to learn like a child with a full stomach. For this reason, schools that seek to improve academic achievement must recognize the strong connection between nutrition and a student’s ability to learn.

In our search for solutions, a group of parents from Padres & Jóvenes Unidos designed and published our Health Justice Report, which we released in June.

One of our report’s recommendations is breakfast in the classroom. Serving breakfast in the classroom provides students with the nutrition that they desperately need and helps improve their academic achievement, as well as increases student participation, concentration and overall performance. It also reduces tardiness, discipline incidents and visits to the nurse’s office.

Progress steady, but slow

We recognize Denver Public Schools’ current efforts to improve the health of students and we support the goals of the DPS Health Agenda 2015. This year, the number of schools utilizing breakfast in the classroom grew from 27 to 43. In particular, we would like to thank the Food and Nutrition Services Department for its work.

However, change is still very slow.

As a mother, I am concerned that in the coming years my children will not be able to benefit from a stronger plan of action in the district. Our children are growing every day. We cannot wait until 2015 to fulfill the goals of the DPS Health Agenda.

This is a serious issue – we are talking about families who are struggling to feed their children. We are talking about children who cannot learn because they are hungry. We are talking about parents who are worried about not being able to provide their children with nutritious food. How to deal with the seriousness of this issue should not be left up to each individual principal. Programs and initiatives aimed at improving the health of our children should not be a choice, but instead, a requirement.

Other school districts have already taken great steps to increase the number of students who eat breakfast. For example, two years ago, the Adams 14 school district began providing breakfast in all district classrooms. Denver can do the same. There are no reasons or excuses not to.

We demand that the Denver Board of Education take more leadership and act with a sense of urgency in the expansion of this program by passing a policy to offer breakfast in the classroom in at least half of all elementary, middle and K-8 schools beginning in the 2013-14 school year. We believe this will be a significant step forward for the district.

Padres & Jóvenes Unidos believes that all students deserve a high-quality education that prepares our children for college. To achieve this, schools must ensure that students are receiving the basics they need to learn, such as breakfast. Our children cannot wait any longer.