More students eat breakfast at school

Sunday, December 17, 2006

In Missouri, breakfast is served in more than 2,000 schools.

America's schools increasingly serve breakfast to hungry students.

A record 9.6 million children in public and private schools ate breakfast on a typical school day in the 2005-2006 academic year, according to a new national study. Most of the children -- 7.7 million -- were from low-income families.

The number of students eating breakfast at school increased 4.3 percent over the 2004-2005 school year, the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center said in its study.

Across Missouri, breakfast is served in 2,049 public school buildings and 47 private schools, said Laina Fullum, assistant director of school food services for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Last academic year, more than 191,000 students daily on average ate breakfast at Missouri schools.

Hundreds in Cape district

Hundreds of students in the Cape Girardeau School District routinely eat breakfast at school.

The district began serving breakfast 15 years ago at then May Greene Elementary School. Over the years, it's been expanded to include all the elementary schools, the middle school and, at the start of this school year, the junior high.

So far, less than 28 percent of the junior high's students, or about 170, are showing up to eat breakfast.

"I would like it to be 50 percent," said Lisa Elfrink, food service director for the Cape Girardeau School District.

Without a breakfast program, many students would go to class hungry, she said.

According to the national study, many families can't afford to feed their children healthy meals. Many families are rushed in the morning and don't find the time to eat breakfast, the report said.

Researchers say children who skip breakfast show increased errors and slower memory recall.

A breakfast program also can help reduce student discipline problems, the report said. Studies have shown that students who participate in school breakfast have lower rates of absence and tardiness and exhibit fewer behavioral and psychological problems, the food research organization reported.

Junior high school principal Roy Merideth said the need for a school breakfast program reflects the fact that many parents leave early for work.

"Some parents go to work by 6 o'clock in the morning," he said. "They leave it up to the students to get to school."

Some students have to catch an early bus and don't have time to eat before they get to school, Merideth said.

The school starts serving breakfast at 7 a.m. Classroom instruction doesn't start until close to 8 a.m., Merideth said. That gives plenty of time for students to eat breakfast even if they don't arrive at school until 7:30 a.m., he said.

The Cape Girardeau School District provides breakfast free to all low-income students, even those that the district could charge a reduced price of 30 cents for a meal.

Through other government funding, the district has been able to cover the costs, Elfrink said.

The Cape Girardeau schools used to provide breakfast to all students for free. But students not from low-income families now must pay for breakfast -- $1 at the middle and junior high schools and 50 cents at the elementary schools. The prices are reasonable, Elfrink said.

State regulations

The state of Missouri only requires schools with 35 percent or more low-income students to offer breakfast programs. Schools gets federal funding to help cover the cost of serving low-income students.

"Some states kick in money, but Missouri is not one," she said.

The local school district doesn't have to offer breakfast at Alma Schrader Elementary School. But Elfrink said district officials felt it would have been unfair to offer breakfast in the other four elementary schools and not Alma Schrader.

The highest participation is at Jefferson Elementary School, where 68 percent of students eat breakfast. The lowest is at Alma Schrader, where less than 22 percent of students show up for breakfast.

The junior high school's Merideth sees the breakfast program as a success even if it only serves a minority of students. "The very fact we are feeding hungry children is enough for me," he said.

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