More students eating school breakfast, see better outcomes
(W.Va.) For the fifth straight year, West Virginia was named the top performing state in the nation for school breakfast participation by the Food Research and Action Center. And student performance is improving as a result.
Cabell County Schools–located about 50 miles west of Charleston–has reported higher attendance rates since it began providing free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of the student's family income two years ago. And administrators have said children are paying better attention in class and are more productive.
Last week, Gov. Jim Justice issued a proclamation declaring the beginning of March as National School Breakfast Week in West Virginia, in an effort to further boost participation rates throughout the state.
“When you think of all the kids in need and all the kids we’re taking care of, that’s one side where we wish to goodness we didn’t have to take care of any kid because all kids would be doing good, but it’s not that way,” Justice said in a statement. “The thing that is good about it is just this, that our service personnel, whether it be our cooks or on and on and on, the job they’re doing to be taking care of a need that’s first in the nation is really good.”
Breakfast has long been hailed as the most important meal of the day, and research shows that eating a healthy breakfast is associated with stronger academic performance, reduced tardiness and absenteeism rates, improved health and a reduced risk of developing an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.
While district leaders and state legislators often agree that it’s important that children eat in the morning, many schools report that fewer eligible students actually participate in school breakfast programs compared to the number who eat school lunches.
Advocates for low-income youth have offered up a number of potential solutions, including providing breakfast for students with long bus rides, offering quick grab-and-go meals, or even serving food in the classroom after the bell rings.
At least six states have passed legislation requiring breakfast be served after the bell in schools that already have a large percentage of students from low-income homes, according to No Kid Hungry, a D.C.-based non-profit that aims to end childhood hunger in the U.S.
Making breakfast part of the regular school day, just like lunch, can help increase participation rates by ensuring that students in need aren’t singled out, according to the organization.
West Virginia’s School Breakfast Program serves about 3 million breakfasts across the state each month to students at more than 700 locations. According to the Food Research and Action Center’s School Breakfast Scorecard, the state is ranked number one in participation of low-income students in the national School Breakfast Program.
At Cabell County Schools, more than 2 million meals were served last school year following the district’s free breakfast for all program was expanded countywide during the 2016-17 school year. The rate of students eating meals at school rose from 65 percent to 76 percent, according to district data.
Rhonda McCoy, the county’s food service director, told the Herald-Dispatch that more students are not only coming to school, but are more alert and more productive during tasks once they arrive.
“Just about any teacher you talk to will say that,” McCoy told reporters. “They pay attention better, their attendance records of coming to school have improved, and they are on time to come to school. They tell us there's lots of benefits since we started this program.”