How Do Afterschool Meal Programs Help Kids?

Yesterday, Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget chief, said there’s no evidence that afterschool programs intended to feed hungry children are actually improving their academic performance.

The reality is that these programs are helping kids from low-income families across America do better in school, stay safe and out of trouble, and - most critically - get the food they need.

There’s plenty of research on afterschool programs and meals, and it overwhelmingly shows positive results.

Test scores improve: A study from the Harvard Family Research Project found that students who participated in high-quality afterschool programs for two years showed significant gains in standardized math test scores when compared to their peers who did not participate.

Attendance and graduation rates go up: A study of kids in Los Angeles public schools showed that 70% of kids who participated in afterschool programs had exemplary attendance records (as compared to just 56% of students who did not participate). And in Chicago, kids enrolled in afterschool and summer programs graduated at a rate of 95% - more than double the overall rate for the school system.

Educators support afterschool programs: “This is an essential program in our district,” said Donna Martin, a school nutrition director for Burke County Public Schools in Georgia. “The kids are willing to stay after school for tutoring because of the hot meal. The graduation rate has increased.”

So yes, the research shows that afterschool programs help kids do better in school. But even more importantly, they give kids the food they need. “It’s the right thing to do for kids,” said Robert Lewis, who heads up school nutrition services in El Monte, Calif. “They should have a healthy supper.”

For a lot of children in the United States, there isn’t much food waiting for them at home in the evening. The meal they get from their afterschool meals program might be all they’ll have to eat that night.