Most have heard or used the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. However, for many students in New Jersey schools; they are unfortunately going to school without that meal. In an effort to help combat against that, more and more schools are offering an option for those children.
During 2012, two Hudson County school districts for example significantly increased the number of their students who participate in the reduced-price or free school breakfast program for eligible students. The study done during the year showed an increase from 14% of eligible student taking advantage of the program at the end of 2010 to 59% by early 2012 for one district while another saw a jump from 13% to 44% during the same range. These are two success stories that are slowly trickling throughout the state.
Bridging that study across all school districts, there was an average of a 21% increase for children from low income families receiving breakfast at school. However, that still leaves much room for improvement with only about 35% of students among the state’s school districts being offered or taking advantage of this option. At the same time, some districts and cities see participation in the 70 percent range. Getting most of the state to that latter percentage is something for the state’s education department and each school district to strive for.
Reacting to the increases; Cecilia Zalkind, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, would state;
“This is great news. We know that hungry children struggle to learn. All our efforts around education reform are in vain if students are hungry. When children are hungry, they struggle to learn. Expanding school breakfast participation, then significantly leverages the substantial investment we make in public education.”
While there is progress on the whole, there is still a good amount of “underachievers”. These “underachievers” are turning away millions of dollars in federal funds.
Some schools that do offer breakfast to children come up with different strategies including serving breakfast after the school day commences. Serving breakfast after the day starts allows for a higher group of students being served breakfast. It has commonly been called “breakfast after the bell”.
“Serving breakfast before school starts is an ineffective way to get students to eat it.”
The focus on ensuring students have breakfast at some point each morning has a long term purpose. Research has shown that children who go without food during a school day do worse and starting each day with a more nutritious breakfast reduces childhood obesity; something on the rise in recent years.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker has referred to breakfast for poorer students as a “building block” for success in the classroom. For Booker,
“Breakfast isn’t everything, but it’s an essential ingredient in our children’s’ success.”
As much as each school district is responsible for taking the available funding and providing breakfast for these lower income students, there is just much responsibility on parents to send their kids to school early or on time to take advantage of this beneficial program. Parents receive notices to see if their children qualify but many assume their kids don’t and ignore the notices. At the same time, some are also unaware of the opportunity all together.
For those unaware, a family of four whose income is about $40,000 or below (185% of the federal poverty level) is eligible for reduced price breakfast. The same would go for lunch as well. Those making way below that $40,000 a year, would be eligible for a free breakfast.
As Zalkind would further exclaim about this topic,
“It’s shocking to me to think that leadership in a district, including parent leadership, would rather blame parents than feed hungry kids.”
It is certainly encouraging to see a higher amount of students being offered breakfast rack morning at school. Between each district and parents, there is more work to be done to increase the amount of low income students receiving a meal to start their day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it will only aid students especially in low income areas to improve their educational potential.