Students help with relief efforts in JapanYou may have heard that English learners are the fastest growing student population in America, but new reports from the Department of Agriculture show that there’s another group of students that’s growing at an impressive rate: kids who qualify for subsidized lunches.

According to a recent New York Times article, the number of students receiving subsidized lunches has ballooned from 18 million during the 2006-2007 school year to a record 21 million last school year. Some states, hit harder by the recession than others, have seen increases of 25 percent or more in the number of students receiving subsidized lunches at school.

“We’re seeing people who were never eligible before, never had a need,” said Peggy Lawrence, director of school nutrition in Conyers, Georgia. And in some cities, like Las Vegas, record enrollments in the subsidized lunch program have had real ramifications for school districts — Clark County recently added an extra shift at their central kitchen to meet the needs of hungry students.

Of course, students’ nutrition needs affect more than just school lunch programs, kitchen staffs, and budgets. Students who come to school hungry or without proper nutrition have a harder time staying focused and behaving well in class, which impacts classmates and teachers, too. So what can you do to help? Check out this post for some ideas.

Has your school or district been affected by the recession? What are you doing to help kids stay fed and focused at school? Share your thoughts in a comment below.