By Ola Szczesna, Director of Content and Research, Massachusetts Parents United
Last week, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that 283 high poverty schools across the Commonwealth will implement the Breakfast After he Bell program, providing 100,000 children free breakfast.
Massachusetts Parents United and our parent members were on the front lines with phone banks, letters, petitions, testimonies, State House visits and social media support on Facebook and Twitter in the successful campaign to bring Breakfast After The Bell to Massachusetts. Mothers and fathers fought, not only for their own children, but also for others whose lives will now improve, whose tummies will be fuller, and whose time in the classroom will be more productive thanks to the strength of parent advocacy and persistence.
(Massachusetts Parents United testifying at the statehouse on behalf of Breakfast After the Bell.)
There are thousands of children across Massachusetts that go to school hungry in the morning.
Nearly 30 percent, or 400,177 children in Massachusetts are considered to be in low-income households and 1 in 8 children in Massachusetts struggle with hunger. In these households, children may not have regular access to food, and parents may be struggling to make breakfast on those short mornings before school when they are running home late from working a night shift.
What may be the biggest indicator that children are hungry in the morning is that the Breakfast After the Bell program has already been tried and tested, and breakfast participation rates can double or even triple when breakfast occurs following the first bell.
When schools see student breakfast participation rates jump from 20% to over 80% after implementing the Breakfast After the Bell program, it’s clear that there is a need and that kids are hungry.
Breakfast is an essential part of student success.
Hungry adults often can’t focus or even function, so how can we expect hungry kids to learn? Of Massachusetts’ 638 high poverty schools, only approximately 215 schools operate Breakfast After the Bell.
The 423 schools that do not offer the program leave nearly 153,000 students without access to a meal in the morning. Students who arrive on a late bus or do not want to face the stigma of getting breakfast at school do not get a chance to eat. Meanwhile, studies on Breakfast After the Bell have demonstrated how important the first meal of the day truly is.
Students who eat in the morning have better academic results, reduced tardiness, reduced nurse visits from hunger, and reduced behavioral problems in the classroom. It’s simple: when children eat breakfast in the morning they are more likely to learn and more likely to succeed.
The program pays for itself.
Free and reduced-price meals are reimbursable by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Schools that serve breakfast traditionally in the cafeteria before the start of the school day typically see between 20%- -30% of students accessing reimbursable breakfast meals.
By moving the time that breakfast is served to after the start of the instructional school day, breakfast participation rates rise to anywhere between 60%- 80%. This increase in reimbursement money for meals usually means that schools get a net profit, with the breakfast meals paying for themselves and the school nutrition departments using the extra funds for new equipment or hiring more staff for the school’s Food and Nutrition Department.
A great example is Springfield, where Breakfast After the Bell has been able to bring in $3.2 million in federal reimbursements to the district, funds that have now created 35 new jobs and are being invested into a Culinary and Nutrition Center. Statewide, Breakfast After the Bell can bring in an annual total of $32 million in USDA reimbursements to schools across the Commonwealth, money that has been left on the table up until now.
Breakfast After the Bell is an incredible and practical program that can improve the lives of thousands of children in Massachusetts. That is why MPU will continue to fight to get Breakfast After the Bell legislation passed through the State House so that our children can be guaranteed this program every year by state law, and considered more than just a budget item in the state budget that can be at risk of being used as a bargaining chip for special interests who don’t really think our children need access to school breakfast.
The implementation of Breakfast After the Bell does also mean that some adjustments will need to take place. Schools will have to transition their students and teachers to spending the first 10 to 15 minutes of classroom time eating breakfast and learning simultaneously.
Students will need to take on more responsibility of cleaning up after their meal and teachers will have to keep track of how many students opted into eating school breakfast every day. But isn’t that such a small ask in exchange for access to breakfast for the 100,000 students in the highest poverty districts in Massachusetts?
We think so, because there is no excuse for why children should go hungry in the morning.
Let’s eat, and let’s get learning.