I don’t know about you, but I am completely breakfast-dependent. Most of us are at our best when we start the day by fueling our bodies, and that’s especially true for our students.
If you are a breakfast believer like me (and you should be), this week’s for you. It’s National School Breakfast Week (NSBW), and schools across the nation are decorating cafeterias and serving up special menus and hosting events around the theme “Wake Up to School Breakfast.” Many resources are available to give you some ideas, including graphics, sample Facebook posts and tweets, recipes, and more from NEA Healthy Futures, the NSBW website, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
National School Breakfast Week calls attention to the importance of breakfast and spreads the word that schools are serving up healthy and tasty meals to millions of children each day. Last year, nearly 100 percent of the School Nutrition Association’s members reported an increase in the number of students who ate breakfast at school during NSBW.
The School Breakfast Program began in 1966 as a pilot project, but was made permanent in 1975 and is now administered by the Food and Nutrition Service, a branch of USDA. Any student can purchase a meal through the program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals, while those at 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals.
But many schools are instituting universal breakfast programs open to all students. Studies have shown that some students are embarrassed about free or reduced-price meals. Making it available to all takes away the stigma.
I visited one school where everybody starts the day with a hearty breakfast, Bryant Elementary School in Helena, Mont., last year. At Bryant, educators pitch in when it comes to serving, and they participate in the eating part, too. One of the teachers told me, “Some of these kids didn’t eat last night. They know there’ll be food here. No stigma. Everybody eats. Then everybody’s ready to learn.”
In North Carolina, the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools instituted a universal breakfast program nearly three years ago. (Slightly more than half the students were classified as economically disadvantaged, and 126 schools out of 168 received funding for breakfast because they met the criteria for severe need.) Other school districts offering universal breakfast include Newark, N.J., and Miami-Dade, Fla.
This is also a good week for celebrating the “lunch ladies” (like I used to be) who make school meals possible. Schools would shut down without the food service personnel and other Educational Support Professionals who are committed to the success of every student. The 2016 NEA Educational Support Professional Conference, the premier professional development opportunity for ESPs, celebrates all of you. The conference kicks off on March 11 and offers more than 50 workshops over four days.
Our ESP members are instructional assistants and crossing guards, school resource officers and security workers, secretaries and office assistants, custodians and laborers, cooks and cashiers, nurses and family aides, electricians and painters, computer programmers and graphic artists, bus drivers and mechanics, and more.
Together, we’re all providing students with the support, tools, and resources they need for a high-quality education that inspires them and fires up their imaginations. And it starts with a good breakfast.