Having teachers serve free school breakfasts in their classrooms sounds like a crazy idea. Here are eight reasons why they’re doing it. Principal Yolanda Prim almost starts crying as she explains. Photo of Yolanda Prim — principal of the Robert F. Morehead Middle School in Pine Bluffs Arkansas — screen captured from No Kid Hungry‘s video on YouTube.
Meet Yolanda Prim, Principal of the Robert F. Morehead Middle School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. She’s fighting hunger one breakfast at a time, as she brings free school breakfasts into the classroom for her sixth through eighth graders. In a video for No Kid Hungry: Share Our Strength, titled “The Importance of School Breakfasts,” Prim explains:
“When I came to this campus last year, nobody went to breakfast. So, I monitored that for the whole year. I saw a lot of students going to the nurse. Kids running late. So I did home visits. And I saw that you go into a home and open the cupboard and the parent had nothing. “
Think Progress reports that an appalling three quarters of teachers in the U.S. say kids are showing up hungry in their classrooms, and half say hunger is a serious problem. Yet, Prim was also astonished because 92 percent of her students qualify for free or reduced-priced breakfast and lunch — compared with 60 percent of school children nationwide. Yet, kids skipping breakfast for various reasons turns out to be a common phenomenon. According to the video, fewer than half of qualifying students participate in their schools’ breakfast programs.
A report from the Milawaukee Public Schools and Hunger Task Force explains why kids often don’t take advantage of reduced-price or free school breakfasts: They don’t get to school early enough — sometimes because their buses arrive late (because breakfast is usually offered before school begins); they don’t qualify for free meals, but don’t have enough money to pay; they would rather hang out outside with their friends than come in and eat; and — sadly — because “Students or parents feel a social stigma (students are too embarrassed to eat breakfast at school or parents are too embarrassed to send their children to school for breakfast).”
Then, Prim had an epiphany:
“I went to a conference, and they said ‘breakfast in the classroom.’ They couldn’t move me from that spot, because I knew at that point, that would be something I would love to try for the students that I serve.”
She began serving free school breakfasts in the classrooms instead of in the cafeteria — an innovation that No Kid Hungry calls “Breakfast After the Bell” — and saw immediate results:
“One day, we had 333 kids eat breakfast. Last year, you didn’t even feed that many in a month.”
Here’s the video:
Eight reasons why we should serve our kids free school breakfasts:
(1) Kids learn more: 76 percentof teachers reported improvement in their students’ alertness during morning classes after their schools launched Breakfast After the Bell, and 75 percent “liked knowing their kids were energized and ready to learn.” [No Kid Hungry]. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) adds that “Providing breakfast to students at school improves their concentration, alertness, comprehension, memory, and learning.”
(2) Kids behave better: When the State of Maryland’s Meals for Achievement launched its Breakfast Pilot program, schools reported that tardiness (lateness) decreased by 8 percent and suspensions decreased by 36 percent, and 91 percent of the staff interviewed wanted to continue the Breakfast After The Bell program in their schools [Fuel Up to Play].
(3) Kids achieve more: The Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning reported stellar results for their Fast Break to Learning School Breakfast Program, with improved math test scores for three out of four fourth and fifth graders, compared with schools that don’t have the program. [Fuel Up to Play]. In addition, the FRAC reports that kids who eat school breakfasts “show a general increase in math and reading scores,” as well as “improvements in their speed and memory in cognitive tests.”
(4) Kids get healthier: According to Web MD , breakfast is the the most important meal of the day for children. “When kids skip breakfast, they can end up going for long periods of time without food and this period of semistarvation can create a lot of physical, intellectual, and behavioral problems for them.” FRAC’s report adds that kids who eat breakfast at school are more likely to meet their daily nutritional requirements, and less likely to become obese. Think Progress adds that malnourished children are more at risk for mental illness. For kids from homes experiencing food insecurity, getting two square meals a day at school can make a huge difference.
A student explains why having free school breakfasts in her classroom helps her learn: “When I come to school, I get school breakfast so when I go back to my classes, I can be focused and be successful and not be so tired, it basically, like, feeds my brain.” Principal Prim adds, “If we didn’t have breakfast here, some kids would probably only eat once a day.”
(5) Teachers are happier: According to No Kid Hungry, 77 percent of teachers report that they “like knowing that their students have eaten.” Since teachers also told NKH that they spend an average of $37 per month feeding hungry children, they probably also appreciate having a little more cash in their wallets.
(6) Free school breakfasts are fair: Since schools report that students from all income levels skip breakfast for all sorts of reasons — parents rushing to work, kids not feeling hungry when they wake up, tweens and teens skipping meals to lose weight — it makes sense to make free school breakfasts part of the school day. “Breakfast After The Bell” programs also prevent kids from ditching this important meal because they’re embarrassed about having other kids think they’re getting free or reduced-price meals, or because they’d rather hang out with their friends. Over 50 percent of teachers told No Kid Hungry they “like knowing that no one is singled out or stigmatized.”
(7) It’s easy: Teachers who served free school breakfasts in their classrooms told No Kid Hungry that it didn’t interfere with their lessons at all, and that the breakfasts proved “quick and constructive.” 76 percent reported taking attendance while their students passed out and ate their breakfasts, 65 percent read classroom announcements, and 42 percent collect homework assignments.
(8) It’s affordable: An average of 60 percent of school children already qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts. FRAC also points out that Provision 2 — a federal program promoting universal school breakfast — provides assistance and reduced paperwork incentives for offering free school breakfasts to all students. In addition, nine states — including Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and (surprise!) North Carolina, provide additional funding for free school breakfasts.
Since this all totally makes sense, why aren’t more schools doing it? Unfortunately, our nation’s Republicans don’t care about education or our kids going hungry. According to Think Progress:
“Yet Congressional Republicans have proposed cuts to the federal food stamps program that would exacerbate the hungry student problem. The initial $20.5 billion in cuts was predicted to boot 210,000 children from school meals programs that are tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the House GOP now plans to cut closer to $40 billion from the program after returning from summer recess.”