FEWER THAN HALF of the children from low-income families who qualify for a free or reduced-price breakfast through the federal food program are taking advantage of the opportunity — and it’s not because they aren’t hungry.
Bus schedules and frazzled morning routines prevent many children from getting to school early. Others are reluctant to go to cafeterias when doing so clearly labels them as needy. But children who skip breakfast not only lose nutritionally but also tend to do worse at school. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to provide this critical morning meal where it has the best chance of being eaten — in the classroom.
Prince George’s County schools are among the latest to join a growing national trend of schools that have moved breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom. Thanks to the $3 million Breakfast in the Classroom initiative promoted by four leading hunger, nutrition and education nonprofits, Prince George’s, where school is already underway this year, is now equipped to improve breakfast services at the schools with the biggest populations of students from low-income families. In addition to moving breakfasts from the cafeteria to the classroom, the program — funded generously by the Wal-Mart Foundation — expands the meal to all students.
There have been worries about potential problems. Is it an added burden for teachers who already are hard-pressed? Won’t it take away from critical instruction time? What about rodents and other pests attracted by leftover food? Careful planning and coordination is key, as is having the right equipment, but Karyn Lynch, chief of student services for Prince George’s, says the county’s experience since the program started in the spring is that teachers love the program as much as parents. Meals are prepackaged, and students eat them while attendance is being taken and morning announcements are read. The fact that students are not hungry has resulted in better behavior and fewer complaints about illness. Studies show that children who have eaten breakfast are more alert and better able to concentrate. Another benefit: The meals meet all federal nutritional guidelines and can be an important tool in tackling youthful obesity.
Four other school districts — Dallas, Little Rock, Memphis and Florida’s Orange County — are participating in Breakfast in the Classroom. A number of other systems, including D.C. schools, have adopted breakfast in the classroom as a strategy for school nutrition. Their success should be a lesson to schools looking to boost participation in the breakfast program.