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“Part of Loving Kids is Feeding Them”

           “I don’t give a damn about test scores” is not the ordinary thing for a school principal to say.  But Fabby Williams, of Northeast Guilford High in North Carolina is not your ordinary principal.  Williams, whose family came to the U.S. from Liberia in West Africa explained “I knew hunger. I lived through it.”

            Williams was on a panel yesterday at the No Kid Hungry conference at the University of North Carolina. A packed room of 250 educators, principals, superintendents, public health officials and activists came representing every corner of the state. 

Conference organizers placed a bowl in the center of each table surrounded by little stones so that when an attendee heard something they liked, they could drop a stone into the bowl to contribute to the community’s “stone soup”.

 Members of the panel described how “a lot of kids don’t eat anything else but at school.”  They told of breakfast-in-the-classroom driving participation from 150 to 700 children, and leading to more settled students and additional instructional time. Stones clang.  The state’s child nutrition services director told me afterward that one of the biggest challenges in education is finding more instructional time without adding to the length of the school day or school year.

Principal Williams, acknowledging resistance to change, said “I wasn’t going to ask permission to feed my kids. Part of loving kids is feeding them. I don’t give a damn about test scores. Feed the kids and the score will go up.” More stones clang.

Dr. Randall Williams, the state’s deputy secretary for health services used gapminder @ show how advances in clean water, vaccines, and medicine improved life expectancy over the past hundred years. The biggest driver going forward will be nutrition, he asserted.  Again, the ping of dropped stones, not just the sound of stone soup being made, but the sound of a growing movement.

The conference underscored the enormous opportunity to gather data and tell the story about the “instructional time dividend” created by breakfast-after-the bell. This is what will enable us to reach beyond the passionate but still too small community of those who care about hungry kids, to the much larger constituency of parents, educators and business leaders focused on improving schools to make America stronger and more competitive.

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