Testimony submitted to the New York City Council Committee on Education
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) wishes to thank Chairman Danny Dromm and the members of the Education Committee for the opportunity to share our views on ensuring that our city’s children receive high-quality, nutritious meals in school and bringing greater public oversight to school meal participation.
The union has supported the Breakfast in the Classroom pilot since its launch in 2008. This program is designed to address the critical need for our students to have a well-balanced diet and a healthy start to the learning day. We likewise support the City Council’s proposed Int. 0773, which will foster transparency by requiring the DOE to give a thorough account of the schools and students participating in meal programs, including breakfast, after-school snacks, supper and grab-and-go cart meals.
Everyone knows that all children need a satisfying and nutritious breakfast to succeed in school. We know that, unfortunately, many children do not receive a nutritious meal at home, often enough because there’s not enough money. As advocates for children, we can’t ignore that during the 2013-14 school year, about 75,000, or 7 percent, of NYC’s public school students lived in homeless shelters or the home of a friend or family member, another factor in accessing affordable or healthy food.
According to the Food and Research Action Center’s Child Nutrition Fact Sheet, children who arrive at school without a proper breakfast exhibit impaired learning ability. They are “less able to distinguish among similar images, show increased errors and have slower recall.” Alternatively, children who receive nutritious breakfasts demonstrate increased performance. They perform better on standardized tests, show improved speed and memory in cognitive tests, handle demanding mental tasks in a more facile manner and react better in frustrating situations.
As we’ve said in prior testimony, a significant value of the all-inclusive in-classroom breakfast model is there is no delineation between students and a family’s ability to pay. It is our hope that the disaggregated reporting proposed in Int. 0773 will further substantiate our beliefs and provide greater insight as to what the DOE can do to change any aspect of its meal program that warrants improvements.
Feeding families and children in our city must remain a top priority. According to the fact sheet on its website, Food Bank NYC indicates that more than 1.3 million NYC residents, or 16.5 percent, are food insecure. The statistics for children are sobering, as approximately 339,000 of the city’s children, or approximately one-fifth of the population of children, depend on soup kitchens and food pantries for meals.
But while we will always support efforts to ensure that our students are properly fed, we also understand that in order to succeed, these programs must be properly planned, educators must be properly trained, and schools must have the proper resources. Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, there have been problems with the DOE’s rollout of the Breakfast in the Classroom program. All of us have heard some of the complaints and have read stories in the media – food that’s brought to the classroom still frozen, or past its expiration date. Although isolated, these are problems that are still taking place and need to be addressed.
Bigger picture, it should be noted that while the Office of Food Services has been very collaborative and accommodating throughout this rollout process, only 10 percent of principals have utilized the available training or workshops that are being provided for schools. That has led to a lot of unnecessary problems along the way.
It’s also a much more complicated process than most people believe. It’s messy, and providing teachers with just a towel is not enough when you have sticky substances like orange juice and jelly on all the desks. It’s also time-consuming, taking far more than the 10-15 minutes that it’s supposed to take. Teachers assigned to the younger grades spend a great deal of time just helping each student open the packaging on their breakfasts without spilling them all over the floor. When you consider the size of some of our classes – 25 or more students – you begin to get the picture.
What’s more, schools participating in the Breakfast for the Classroom program have lost the ability to provide hot breakfasts to the children who are dropped off at school early. That’s because schools in the program are no longer allowed to serve hot meals in the cafeteria before the students are allowed up to their classrooms. It’s a 30+ minute gap that should be addressed.
Due to the complaints we have received, we have gone the extra step and developed an online assistance form that enables our members to request our help and to intervene when there are issues at the school level with these programs. Additionally, we list one of our health and safety staffers on the union’s website who is assigned to directly field concerns.
Again, we fully support the Breakfast in the Classroom program, as well as others that address the needs of our students. The goal of the program should be full participation, especially for the neediest students. That said, if we truly want this program to succeed, our teachers need better training and support. Thank you.