New Jersey schools are serving more breakfasts during school hours, leading to a nearly 75 percent increase over the last several years in the number of low-income students who are receiving a meal in the morning, according to a new report.
The fifth annual N.J. School Breakfast Report was formally presented on Thursday, Oct. 15 during a “Breakfast After the Bell” event in Jersey City.
Many schools already serve breakfast but do so before classes begin – when many students have not arrived to campus. The “Breakfast After the Bell” campaign urges schools to offer meals when students are present. Otherwise, students, some of whom come from families that can’t afford breakfasts, end up skipping the first meal of the day.
Over the past five years, advocates of breakfast after the bell have tried to convince more campuses to integrate the meal into their regular school day.
The School Breakfast Report noted that since more school districts have signed on to the program, the number of students eligible for free or reduced-priced meals who received breakfast in school jumped from about 136,000 in 2010 to 237,000 this year. During that same period, the number of children from higher-income families who participated in school breakfast programs increased 31 percent, signaling that more parents who can afford breakfast prefer their children to eat at school.
This change in the way breakfast is served means that tens of thousands of children are now receiving the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn, and studies show that good nutrition improves student achievement.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey, along with the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, are co-leaders of the NJ Food for Thought Campaign.
Despite the gains in participation, nearly 300,000 children still aren’t receiving breakfasts, due in part to a growing number of children living in poverty and because some educators still have not embraced the idea of serving meals during the school day.
Concerns have ranged from fear of a massive cleanup effort to losing instructional time if breakfast is served in classrooms. Program advocates say both concerns can be addressed and that the Department of Education recognizes the first few minutes of class when students are finishing breakfast as instructional time.
Meanwhile, the need to serve school breakfasts is growing, citing an approximately 20 percent increase in low-income children in New Jersey over the last five years.
The School Breakfast Report identified “school breakfast champions,” districts with the highest participation rates. Woodbine, in Cape May County, topped the list for participation rate among districts where half or more of the student population is low-income. The report also named 48 “school breakfast underachievers,” defined as high-poverty districts or schools where 30 percent or fewer of the eligible students are served breakfast. Trenton’s Stem-To-Civics Charter School led that list, serving breakfast to only 5 percent of eligible students.
The N.J. Food for Thought Campaign is a statewide coalition made up of anti-hunger, education and health organizations, child advocates, and the New Jersey Departments of Agriculture, Education and Health. Sharon Seyler, NJSBA legislative advocate, is part of the N.J. Food for Thought Campaign and has been instrumental in promoting the Breakfast After the Bell program in the state.
The report is posted online at www.njschoolbreakfast.org.