As Georgia's state superintendent of schools, I am proud to support National School Lunch Week (Oct. 12-16), a time set aside each year to recognize the importance of healthy and nutritious lunches in our schools.
Since 1946, the national school lunch program has been providing low-cost, nutritious meals to students nationwide. To date, more than 219 billion lunches have been served across the country.
The Georgia Department of Education's school nutrition program provides support every day to our school systems to help schools deliver high-quality, nutritious lunches to students. School lunches have a profound impact on student achievement, so it is a program I am very passionate about.
We've all been in situations where we're hungry and find it difficult to concentrate on anything. For some of our students, they experience hunger more often than we'd like to think, and that takes a toll on them physically and mentally.
Each day, students spend about seven hours at school learning. Our new curriculum, the Georgia Performance Standards, requires students to be actively engaged in order to learn the material.
But to be engaged and think, students must be well-nourished. Students who are hungry simply can't pay attention in class. And those students who are more concerned about where their next meal will come from typically don't perform as well academically. These students are also more likely to get sick, requiring them to be out of the classroom more often and missing crucial instructional time. For some students, the lunch they receive at school each day might be the only meal they get.
Lunches served in Georgia's schools through the National School Lunch program aren't just nutritious, though - they're good, too. I know many people may think, "I don't remember my school lunches being very good." I strongly encourage anyone to take a visit to a local school and have lunch. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
During the past seven years, I have visited more than 650 schools, including at least one in every Georgia school district. I have always found wonderful school lunches served by the most compassionate school nutrition professionals.
During National School Lunch Week, I want to thank everyone who has a hand in providing healthy and nutritious lunches to Georgia's students, including food service professionals, school personnel, parents and the farmers who provide much of the food.
This week, please take a moment to thank those who make school lunches possible, especially the caring individuals in the schools who prepare and serve food to our students each day. Send your child's school nutrition staff a note to express your appreciation, or stop by and have lunch at your child's school to show your support.
Any of these gestures would be nice, but there is no greater reward to them than hearing from a student or a parent that they made a difference in a student's life.
My vision for Georgia is that we will lead the nation in improving student achievement. Providing a healthy and nutritious lunch for every child makes it much easier to fulfill that vision.
To all of Georgia's school nutrition professionals, thank you for everything you do for our students. We appreciate you!
Kathy Cox is Georgia's superintendent of schools.
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