McAllen ISD’s breakfast model topic of panel discussion

McALLEN — Hunger can impact a student’s health and performance in academic success. McAllen ISD partnered with Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative and the Share Our Strength program, No Kid Hungry, to host a meeting here Tuesday about school breakfast to address that impact.

At the center of the discussion was McAllen ISD’s model addressing the dangers of food insecurity to students and spread knowledge of solutions. Educators from over 20 school districts and city officials met to understand McAllen’s model and how to better tackle child food insecurity at the Embassy Suites in McAllen. Piper International also sponsored the event.

This lack of food security is an educational one as it affects the ability to concentrate, feel better and improve performance in the classroom, No Kid Hungry and Share Our Strength field manager, Alison De La Cuesta said.

A significant portion of students arrive in school hungry, which can distract them in their studies, she said. Giving equity to students in the classroom along with getting children to stay in school are also the goals of solving food insecurity.

“I know we’ve all seen the face of hunger in our children,” Debra Franco, a child hunger outreach specialist for the Texas Hunger Initiative, said in a presentation.

Anxiety in providing meals for any family member, struggling to budget resources for quality products and reducing meal intakes are all a part of food insecurity, Texas Hunger Initiative regional director Elaine Hernandez said.

Trends display a decrease of child food insecurity from 2010-16 throughout Texas, but Hidalgo County and other surrounding counties are above the state average, Hernandez said. The state averaged about 23 percent in 2016, with Hidalgo County showing 28.6 percent.

Questions regarding how to feed students over holidays and on weekends were among the concerns from educators in the audience. Charities and non-profit organizations are major sources to draw from in reducing child food insecurity. This should be a focal point to addressing the concerns on solving the food problems, Hernandez said.

Traditional cafeteria breakfasts are plagued with stigma, lateness to class and a lack of convenience for students. However, making breakfast a part of the day can alleviate those factors.

McAllen High School teacher Yvette Correa said she felt skeptical on the practicality of the model, but implementing the program in classrooms went smoothly. Disorganization and students lingering around were among the initial concerns, but reality put those fears to rest.

Diabetes is a major issue in the Rio Grande Valley and access to healthy food is important, Franco said. Many children are eating good meals in school but junk items outside school. Consumption of food high in saturated fats, sugar and triple carbohydrates are among these.

The model provides a convenient measure of food that solves the hunger issue while being nutritious, according to Alexandra Molina, director of food and nutrition services for McAllen ISD. The program evolved over time to meet the needs of students.

Molina said she hopes the event will help colleagues understand food insecurity and have better awareness.

Fresh fruits like oranges, apples and bananas along with dry cereals were on display on a cart, providing a visual of the model. Attendees dined as presenters talked about their experiences and displayed their research on food insecurity.

With many educators and civic leaders gathered together, collaboration is key to solving issues, according to Hernandez.

“We all have a piece of the solution to this problem: food insecurity,” Hernandez said.