By Ola Szczesna, Massachusetts Parents United
During January of this year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education sent out a letter calling on school superintendents and leaders of high poverty schools to implement a breakfast program for kids called Breakfast After the Bell.
There were 287 schools listed in the letter from DESE, all who are considered high poverty schools due to the fact that they have 60 percent or more of their students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. If you were on the list, you probably know — and it’s time to get to work to get your school in compliance.
As context, the decision followed the failure of the state legislature to bring the Breakfast After the Bell bill to a vote late last session. It is striking that children having access to breakfast every morning was not a priority. The program also costs the state zero dollars, thanks to USDA meal reimbursements. Schools may have to take on some start up costs, but there are a handful of organizations and foundations ready to provide grants and help with those costs, because people care about kids eating breakfast. Literally, within a matter of weeks, your school could have access to a $10,000 grant and access to the resources you need to get this done easily.
School leaders, we understand that most of you offer school breakfast but you say students don’t participate or they are picky eaters. But here is what we want you to know: offering school breakfast after the bell when the instructional day has begun will undoubtedly spike your participation rates because when kids are hungry, they will eat. You can refer to last year’s Massachusetts School Breakfast Report Card here, where you can see schools like yours who had only 30 percent of students participating in breakfast see their numbers spike to 80 and 90 percent participating just by moving the time that breakfast was offered through Breakfast After the Bell.
Here is what we also know about the importance of breakfast and its impacts:
- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Not eating in the morning upsets the rhythm of hormones and enzymes that keep our brains and bodies working well.
- Nationwide, 87% of principals who implemented the program believe that other principals should explore launching a similar program.
- When kids consistently start their school day with a nutritious meal, they have significantly less absences, improved grades, are 50% less likely to repeat a grade, and a 20% better chance of graduating high school.
- Students who consistently start their day with a healthy meal had an average 17.5% increase in their standardized math scores over students who skip breakfast.
- Principals who implement Breakfast After the Bell notice improved attentiveness, fewer occurrences of tardiness and absenteeism, fewer visits to the school nurse, fewer disciplinary referrals, and improved reading and math test scores.
If your school is on DESE’s list then you have until April 1st, 2019 to respond with which breakfast model you will choose, and you will have until May 31st, 2019 to implement the model. The best part is that we are READY TO HELP! As part of my work with Massachusetts Parents United, I have taken on the role to provide technical assistance to schools interested in rolling out Breakfast After the Bell, and connect you with grant opportunities for start up costs. It is a priority for us to make this transition an easy one for schools because we know that this program WORKS and we want hungry kids to get access to breakfast every morning.
Here is a chart from Food Research & Action Center than breaks down the different types of models you can implement based on what works best for your school. It’s a useful resource for school staff (find more detailed information here). But what we really recommend is for School Nutrition Directors and school leaders to go to observation days at other schools who have already implemented Breakfast After the Bell. They will be able to tell you first hand their failures and successes, and they will be able to tell you that this program makes a big difference for all students and it works.
As the leader of your building, ask yourself — do we have what it takes to make sure every single student in our school doesn’t have to worry about missing breakfast again? If you don’t, it’s time to ask for help.
Our kids are depending on us.