NORMAN — Norman’s elementary school students may visit their nurse or health assistant for any number of reasons, but the most common, as of last year, was hunger.
“Usually students go to the nurse between the beginning of school and 10 a.m. The first question we ask is, ‘Have you eaten?’ and if the student wants something, they’re immediately given something protein-heavy like peanut-butter crackers,” said District Health Coordinator Sunny Miller. “We keep close tabs on who receives food and how frequently to identify whether or not a student is chronically hungry.”
Miller recently conducted a survey among NPS health assistants and nurses to see how many students ask for food on a daily or weekly basis, and said the numbers actually came back lower than she expected.
“I got quite a mixture and I think it goes back to the ebb and flow of demand — some days or weeks are going to be rough for these children’s families and some are going to be better,” Miller said.
Though it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact numbers and circumstances of all hungry children and teens in the Norman district and statewide, data and trends monitored by the district and the Oklahoma Department of Education show a sharp increase in students qualifying for nutritional assistance.
According to the Department of Education, 62 percent of the state’s student population is on Free and Reduced Lunch for Fiscal Year 2013. Though Norman’s average weighed in significantly lower at 49 percent, some elementary schools in the district have more than 80 percent of their student bodies on the free/reduced program.
In addition to free/reduced meals, K-12 students in Norman and across the state can receive packages of food items supplied by the Regional Food Bank and distributed at their school, to ensure they have nourishment outside of class time. Including Little Axe Elementary and three community programs in Norman, the Regional Foodbank reported 863 K-12 students receiving this type of assistance in April.