Monday, January 31, 2011

Participation Jumps in D.C. Classroom Breakfast Program

The number of kids eating breakfast at school leapt 29 percent in the first month of the current school year here in the District of Columbia following adoption of a breakfast in the classroom program, according to a new report [PDF] from the D.C.-based non-profit Food Research and Action Center.

The figures mean that an additional 5,900 children who might not have been eating breakfast before are now getting a government-sponsored meal before classes started.

Breakfast is offered universally free to all public school children in the District. Last year, a "Healthy Schools Act" approved by the D.C. Council mandated that all schools where more than 40 percent of the students qualify as low-income must also offer breakfast in the classroom.

Prior to the new law, breakfast participation lagged significantly the number of children who ate lunch. In the 2009-2010 school year, for instance, the average number of students eating breakfast each day was around 18,000, reports FRAC, compared to nearly 38,000 who ate lunch.

Participation in breakfast soars to nearly 100 percent when it's offered free in the classroom. That means more kids better able to focus on learning when classes start. It also means schools take in far more federal meal subsidies that they can use to improve the food at lunch.

FRAC calculates that if breakfast participation rose to 60 percent citywide, the District would take in more than $1 million in addition federal subsides annually.n Two states already have achieved the 60 percent goal: New Mexico and South Carolina.

Chicago schools recently adopted a plan to offer free breakfast in the classroom to all 410,000 of its students.

Some parents have complained that breakfast served in the classroom would interfere with valuable lesson time. But schools that have adopted breakfast in the classroom have seen few disruptions. Many simply start the school day a little earlier, and teachers report kids are more focused.

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