School Supe: Breakfast Is Still The Most Important Meal
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and State Controller John Chiang encouraged schools to expand a key student nutrition program and advised school administrators today that serving students breakfast in the classroom will not negatively impact instructional minutes requirements.
“Research consistently shows that hungry students do not learn easily or effectively,” said O’Connell. “The breakfast in the classroom program provides nourishing food for students while teachers start classroom instruction. State Controller Chiang and I agree that serving and eating breakfast in the classroom while educational activities are underway is not considered ‘free’ time by auditors and should count as instructional time.”
California Education Code Section 46201 requires that all students in grades four to eight receive 54,000 minutes of instruction annually. Some school administrators have expressed concern that the time students spend eating breakfast in the classroom through the School Breakfast Program might not be counted by auditors as instructional time. But O’Connell and Chiang want to dispel this misconception.
“Schools meal programs help children learn, grow, and advance with proper nutrition,” said Chiang.
In an elementary classroom setting, a teacher may read aloud to the class or have students read materials relevant to the day’s lesson while they eat breakfast. In a middle or high school classroom setting, a teacher may present educational materials relevant to the class or ask the students to read the materials while they eat breakfast. As long as the breakfast is served and eaten in the classroom while otherwise allowable instructional activities are underway, O’Connell and Chiang committed that the time will not be considered free time by auditors.
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The School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program help meet the nutritional needs of students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Studies show students who routinely eat a nourishing breakfast perform better in school and have lower rates of absenteeism and tardiness.
O’Connell is encouraging expansion of the School Breakfast Program because it is an effective way to enhance children’s health and improve their academic achievement. He is an honorary chair of the BreakfastFirst Campaign, a three-year initiative, led by California Food Policy Advocates. The campaign seeks to improve access, participation, and nutritional quality in the School Breakfast Program throughout the state.
“Ensuring that all students have access to a nutritious school breakfast is a winning proposition,” said California Food Policy Advocates Executive Director Kenneth Hecht. “There is a significant and growing body of evidence that links school breakfast to better learning, improved classroom behavior, and enhanced student health, including healthy body weight. Moreover, maximizing school breakfast participation means maximizing federal meal reimbursements for school districts. Given the financial hardships faced both by school districts and families across our state, effective school breakfast models are more important than ever.“
In most cases, the cost of the breakfast served in the classroom can be supported by federal and state meal reimbursements. However, the program is underused in California. While more than 9,800 public school sites participate in the National School Lunch Program, about 16 percent of these schools do not offer a School Breakfast Program. Of the 3.1 million public school students who are eligible for a free and reduced-price breakfast, only about 908,000, or 29 percent of these students, are participating in the School Breakfast Program.
Schools may increase participation in this program in a number of ways. For instance, the start time for school and bus schedules may be adjusted in ways that encourage more children to eat breakfast at the school. Other program options may include:
• Universal Classroom Breakfast: All children are offered breakfast free of charge in the classroom at the start of the school day.
• Grab-and-Go: Children receive breakfast from mobile carts as they arrive at school by school buses or other means, and eat prior to entering the classroom.
• Breakfast to Go: Students pick up a bagged breakfast from the cafeteria and bring it to the classroom.
• Second Chance Breakfast: Breakfast is offered to students some time after first period, most often during recess or a passing period.
For more information about the School Breakfast Program, please visit www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/sn/sbp.asp#what. For more information about the BreakfastFirst Campaign, please visit www.BreakfastFirst.org.