Meals that school districts send home with students over the weekend seem to be having a more significant impact than simply keeping students fed during time away from the classroom.

New research by a Lycoming College professor indicates these programs not only provide needed nutrition but also have a positive effect on academic performance, especially among the youngest and lowest-performing students. Mica Kurtz, an economics professor at Lycoming, co-authored the study that “provides the first evidence of the plausibly causal effects of weekend feeding programs on academic performance in the form of increased reading test scores, and suggests that the programs also raise math scores.”

At a time when the consistency schools offer to all students is reliably inconsistent, this is more than welcome news.

Weekend backpack programs have grown across the region over the past five years. Now, most Valley districts have their own programs, sending home a few days worth of food with some students on Fridays.

“Childhood food insecurity is a significant problem for many students in this country; we have school breakfast and school lunch programs to help, but over the weekend many students (and their families) can really struggle,” said Kurtz. “There is strong evidence to suggest that expansion of these programs could be a cost-effective way to not only reduce childhood food insecurity but also improve scholastic outcomes for the most needy students, and this evidence is actionable.”

Many students in Valley schools rely on regular meals at schools — both breakfast and lunch — due to some level of food insecurity at home. For too many, they are the only consistent meals they get each day.

Over the past 10 months, that security has waffled with students spending more time at home remote learning.

Valley school leaders have made it a priority to create accessible programs for students, some who haven’t been in a classroom for nearly two months. Breakfast and lunch are now being distributed during the week as well for those learning remotely.

School leaders say it is making an impact. Now, preliminary studies back up the success of these programs.

“Our department has been providing meals for students over the weekend,” Jonathan Hall, food service director in the Warrior Run School District, said. “We have also been providing meals when students are learning virtually. We have heard from several parents that elected to be virtual the entire school year that the meals being sent home have helped their students in providing some familiarity and stability.”

Familiarity and stability are never a bad thing when it comes to kids.

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