Schools See Surge in Breakfast Participation
"One thing that can help sleepy, hungry kids get ready to hit the books by the first school bell is a good breakfast. Several local schools have learned the value of providing that meal and, as the school year winds down, the New Hampshire School Breakfast Challenge is singing their praises."
Eagle Tribune (June 24, 2014) Schools See Surge in Breakfast Participation
EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA
June 24, 2014
Schools see surge in breakfast participation
Local schools recognized for feeding more students
By Dustin Luca
---- — One thing that can help sleepy, hungry kids get ready to hit the books by the first school bell is a good breakfast.
Several local schools have learned the value of providing that meal and, as the school year winds down, the New Hampshire School Breakfast Challenge is singing their praises.
The challenge is run by New Hampshire Kids Count, a nonprofit organization that advocates for public initiatives affecting children. It tracks school breakfast participation and rewards school districts that increase participation semester to semester.
But while local schools are doing well, the state as a whole is getting low marks.
“New Hampshire happens to be 50th out of 50 states in terms of the use of this federal nutrition program,” said Erika Argersinger, policy director at New Hampshire Kids Count. “That tells us we’re not taking advantage of the program the way we should.”
Three local schools were rated “top achievers” in their categories for boosting participation over the challenge’s first quarter. They include: Lancaster Elementary School in Salem; Londonderry Middle School; and Windham High School.
The first quarter ran from October to February. Prizes are given to top achievers at the one-year mark — after two quarters — and after two years. There are no quarterly awards beyond recognition, Argersinger said.
School breakfasts typically cost 95 cents to $1.50, or 30 cents for those who qualify for a reduced rate.
Barbara Schultz, Salem School District director of food service, said the announcement came as a surprise.
Her district had sharp increases among all elementary schools with fewer than 300 students. That included a 200 percent increase in students served breakfast overall in the first quarter, according to Argersinger.
Lancaster School Principal Adam Pagliarulo said he welcomed the news, but being a top achiever was never his goal.
“As a district, we want kids to take advantage of our breakfast program, as well as our lunch program,” Pagliarulo said. “I wish I could say it was a goal of ours to be the leading small school, but it wasn’t.”
Londonderry Middle School was named a top achiever among middle schools with 400 or more students. The school saw a 50 percent increase in meals to students on free and reduced-price plans, according to Argersinger.
This year was the first time the school offered breakfast, district food service director Nancy Faucon said.
“We realized that there was a need. Students were going to the nurse quite frequently because they were hungry,” Faucon said. “Adding breakfast was a good way to try to work with them on relieving that hunger issue.”
Windham High School was named a top achiever among large high schools with 500 or more students. The high school saw growth of about 45 percent in free and reduced-price plan participation, according to Argersinger.
Pelham Memorial School and Pelham High School, meanwhile, were recognized for creating a full-breakfast menu this year, complementing its a la carte menu.
They also were the only two schools in the state to go online with new programs as the challenge started, Argersinger said.
School officials in Pelham said they were as surprised by the recognition as they were by the response to their breakfast program.
“It was just a coincidence that they were rolling out the breakfast challenge this year,” nutritional services director Kelly Rambeau said. “We would have done it regardless, so when I saw the article, I was surprised myself.”
The district also doubled its participation across the board by the final weeks of school. Schools served about 1,200 morning meals from January to May, Rambeau said.
“We were a little surprised,” Rambeau said. “The program was new. Word of mouth had to work through the students to let them know breakfast was available to them.”
The schools are all seeking ways to improve their culinary craft when students return next year.
Windham High School might run breakfast longer after seeing a vending machine get heavy use between first and second block, Peckham said.
“We’ve noticed, at 9:30 a.m., the machine is very busy,” Peckham said. “We’re looking at having a breakfast cart at 9:30, and maybe having a second breakfast.”
Salem School District may also make breakfast more accessible to students getting to school in the morning, Schultz said.
“We’re trying to work with breakfast off the bus, and breakfast in the classroom,” Schultz said. “If they can get a breakfast that’s already in a bag that has all the components, they can just bring it and have it in the classroom or in the cafeteria.”
Pelham School District, meanwhile, is looking to add more variety to its menus.
It may also look to add breakfast to the elementary schools, but that will be a different challenge.
“There’s a lot that needs to go into it — busing schedule, teachers, staffing,” Rambeau said. “We have a big elementary school here. It would take a lot of collaboration between a number of departments to get it working smoothly.”