In the News! Hunger & Snack Needs in Sun Prairie Schools

The Wisconsin State Journal is taking note of the many parents and community groups taking action to help ensure school children receive healthy snacks in Dane County.  These efforts offset the many out-of-cost expenses to teachers and staff who consistently pick up the tab for snack time in the lack of district-wide policies or funding to cover this important part of the school day.

From Gena Kittner’s article, “Parents and volunteers work to provide healthy, consistent school snacks:”

The need for healthy school snacks has not gone unnoticed by a group in Sun Prairie.

Sun Prairie Action Resource Coalition has made it their goal to provide healthy school snacks to elementary students in the district who can’t bring their own.

Heather DuBois Bourenane, a SPARC coordinator, said that as a parent, she saw how many students were not able to bring a daily snack.

In many cases, teachers or parent organizations would fill in those gaps, she said, but that was expensive and inconsistent.

SPARC took a poll of the district’s teachers and 43 percent responded.

Of that number, 77 percent said they have bought classroom snacks out of their own pocket. Of those, 87 percent were not reimbursed.

“It’s really quite shocking,” DuBois Bourenane, said.

Through donations and a school snack drive, the organization was able to officially launch its snack program last spring and is providing healthy snacks to all Sun Prairie elementary schools and the alternative middle school, Prairie Phoenix Academy.

Plastic bins filled with donated snacks are located in each school, and the group refills them as needed.

This allows teachers to “distribute the snacks with a certain amount of sensitivity to students who don’t have them,” DuBois Bourenane said.

SPARC now plans on applying for major grants to help the Sun Prairie School District address the long-term need for school snacks. They also are pushing the school board to make addressing hunger equity a priority.

“There’s no question that hunger impacts learning,” DuBois Bourenane said. “Students that are hungry cannot learn as successfully as their peers. We feel it’s really important that the district take ownership that each child has his or her hunger needs met.”

Emily Pederson, a first-grade teacher at Sun Prairie’s C.H. Bird Elementary, said since the school year started, she has five to six students on a daily basis who don’t have a snack.

Sometimes parents simply forget, she said, but for many “it’s due to financial constraints.”

Having the SPARC snacks has been “hugely helpful,” she said. “Before, I was buying things on my own.”

The links between student hunger and performance, behavior, and academic success have been well-documented.  Addressing this issue ensures equitable teaching and learning in our classrooms, a priority goal of the SPASD.

To learn more about how hunger impacts our schools, please check out the presentation we made to the Sun Prairie School Board on Sept. 23, 2013: SnackSmart School Board PRESENTATION VERSION 9.23.13. snack costs

This presentation includes a summary of our findings through the SnackSmart program, the results of our surveys of teachers & social workers, and our recommendations to the District.  After this meeting, the Board agreed to establish a Student Hunger Workgroup and we look forward to collaborating and working toward more sustainable ways to address the impact of student hunger in our classrooms.

Here’s the short version of our findings:

  •  308 responses to our survey (43% of all teachers + social workers from every school)
  •  77 % of educators in Sun Prairie are currently providing snacks for students
  •  84% of teachers and staff who buy snacks are not reimbursed
  •  At median rates for each category, this averages to $18/month per teacher – up to $9780 A MONTH district-wide and about $162/year per teacher, though many teachers pay substantially more than this (these figures include non-instructional staff).
  •  $88,020 a year is spent on snacks by SPASD teachers and staff.  $68,632 of this is not reimbursed
$ snack costs

SPARC’s data shows the snack needs in Sun Prairie are great; the top figures represent the minimum and maximum costs of running the SnackSmart Program through social workers, buying snacks in bulk at discount prices. The bottom two bars show the current costs absorbed by teachers and staff, largely out of pocket.

One way we can all help is to get students to school on time to participate in the school breakfast program.  Electors voted last night to expand transportation services to middle and high school students in Sun Prairie, a move which was introduced primarily to increase student safety, but which will have the added benefit of ensuring about 600 additional students arrive to school in time to eat breakfast and get a successful start to a productive day of learning.

As a community deeply invested in our excellent public schools, we can work together to address the opportunity gaps facing our students.  We can do this by providing positive opportunities to improve our teaching and schools, but also by prioritizing addressing hunger as part of a holistic approach to ensuring positive academic and behavior outcomes in the classroom.

“For those now facing the steep stairwell, our leaders have a choice. They can continue the breathless push for achievement now, regardless of where kids start. Or they can turn to solid research about opportunities to learn. They can increase access to high-quality preschools, well-trained and culturally sensitive teachers, childhood nutrition, learning enrichment programs and other inputs. We know how and why some students thrive while others falter. It’s the opportunity gap, and we can close it.”
– Prudence Carter and Kevin Welner in a 2013 op-ed 

SPARC calls on Sun Prairie to help close that gap by fighting student hunger and helping support the teachers and staff currently picking up the tab as the District works toward a more sustainable solution.

If you or your organization would like to donate or get more involved, please email If you’d like to mail a contribution, please make your tax-deductible contribution payable to Sun Prairie Area School District, with “SnackSmart Snack Drive” in the memo line, and mail to: SnackSmart c/o Phil Frei, SPASD, 501 S. Bird St, Sun Prairie, WI 53590.

To learn more about how hunger impacts education, please check out these recommended resources:

  • No Kid HungryNational program supporting school breakfast and lunch programs, and educating the public on hunger in US schools and how it affects teaching and learning.  Excellent resource page with many suggestions for further reading here and handy infographic here.  2013 survey of national hunger issues available here.
  •  Got Breakfast?   National initiative. Includes links to many studies of the value of school breakfast programs, including successful participation by the Milwaukee school district.
  • September 2013 National Education Association report on costs of student hunger on educators.
  • School Breakfasts and Ending Child Hunger”, March 2013 report by Greg Kaufmann for The Nation.
  •  Nutrition and Student Performance in School(pdf). Howard Taras’s 2005 Journal of School Health survey of scientific data supporting the link between student achievement and nutrition: “In 2 of the 3 studies conducted in the United States, food insufficiency was associated with significantly poorer cognitive functioning, decreased school attendance, or diminished academic achievement.”
  • Breakfast for Learning(pdf). Well-documented survey of scientific data on influence of hunger on learning. “What we find particularly exciting is that this [school breakfast] is a relatively simple intervention that can significantly improve children’s academic performance and psychological well-being.” J. Michael Murphy, EdD
  •  California After School Resource Center tutorial  (pdf) on the benefit of providing healthy snacks at school.
  •  2013 NEA article on equity as an academic standard for public education

For more on the impacts of school hunger, visit


Heather DuBois Bourenane and Cathy Pagel, SPARC SnackSmart coordinators

This entry was posted in Community, Education, News and Events, Volunteering. Bookmark the permalink.

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