Meals Program For At-Risk Youth Secondary Schools

Far from the public eye, there are currently at least 54,000 secondary school students dealing with hunger, which doesn’t allow them to concentrate on their studies.

Unlike the primary education school system, where there are meal and nutrition programs operating in the social and geographic periphery, there is no systemic solution to this difficult problem for middle schools and high schools. Surveys conducted in Israel in recent years show that of the 750,000 students in grades 7-12, 54-65 thousand secondary school students are suffering from hunger. Out of those students, 15-20 thousand are suffering frequently, to the extent that they experience difficulty learning as a result of their hunger. The results of the international survey on the health and well-being of youth in Israel conducted in 2019, when accounting for all of the students in the relevant age brackets, indicate that 39,000 students are sometimes hungry, 9,000 are frequently hungry and 6,000 are always hungry.

The effects on students suffering from hunger include behavioural problems, truancy, tardiness and even dropping out of school.

The implications are long-term: their physical and mental development is irreversibly impaired and the negative impact on their academic achievements will follow them into their adult lives, making it difficult for them to integrate into society and the workforce. Schools, education networks and local authorities struggle to provide a solution to this national problem. Only a few of them manage to raise funds from private donors for student nutrition, which usually only affords partial solutions that are unstable and unsustainable.

The goal of our proposal is to expose the urgent need to address this problem and to propose a government policy solution.

Our research revealed that comprehensive school meal and nutrition programs exist in almost all high and middle income countries, and they have proven to be successful at improving academic achievement, classroom participation, and cognitive skills, as well as contributing to the reduction of social gaps and improving nutrition and health in the medium and long-term. 

Our policy paper on the issue emphasizes the need for a national program as a solution to the hunger problem in secondary schools and outlines the expected impact:

• Ensuring the health and proper physical and mental development of students

• Providing students with a real opportunity to achieve academic success

• Giving students the tools to succeed as adults and preventing their decline 

• Significant cost savings for the State budget

Specific Objectives

Due to the considerations above, we have developed a two-pronged proposal for policy change:

1. Acceptance and implementation of a meal and nutrition program in schools for at-risk youth, where the need and urgency are most acute.

As detailed in our paper, we estimate that a program providing a solution for approximately 20,000 students in schools for at-risk youth in need of assistance will cost approximately ILS 33 million a year. Such a program would support and protect these students from dropping out of the education system, the implications of which would be felt throughout their lives.

2. Convincing the Ministry of Education to conduct an in-depth study examining the scope of urgent needs in the rest of the schools and ways to provide them with solutions.

Such a study is needed for preparation of a systemic solution for the children who are in need in other secondary schools.

Currently, we are working to organize a group of stakeholders and experts.

This group will advocate with decision makers to establish a meals program targeted at secondary schools for at-risk youth, where the needs and urgency are most acute. Following that, we will work on a program that addresses the needs of all secondary schools.  

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