Wednesday, February 11, 2015

PA Treads Water on Serving School Breakfasts

 
Dan Heyman, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: As a hunger-fighting strategy, the number of children getting breakfast in school is rising, but the figures in Pennsylvania are rising very slowly, according to a new national report. Photo courtesy Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
PHOTO: As a hunger-fighting strategy, the number of children getting breakfast in school is rising, but the figures in Pennsylvania are rising very slowly, according to a new national report. Photo courtesy Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The number of kids getting breakfast at school has been rising nationally, but Pennsylvania has seen only a slight improvement.

A new report from the Food Research and Action Center shows a small increase in the number of children in need who have breakfast at school - less than a percentage point, compared with an increase of almost 3 percent nationally.

Kathy Fisher, policy manager for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, said the state needs to do better.

"Of every 100 kids who get lunch, Pennsylvania reaches about 45 with breakfast," she said, "and that's where we're not reaching enough of those kids, with breakfast at school."

Statistics show that kids who eat breakfast in school have better attendance, better test scores and fewer discipline problems. As one school official put it, students can't be hungry to learn if they're just plain hungry.

According to the Food Research and Action Center, 320,000 more children nationwide ate a healthy breakfast at school last year than the year before. Today, said FRAC president Jim Weill, more than 11 million low-income kids eat breakfast at school.

"That's just hugely important," he said, "not just so kids are less hungry, but hugely important for their health, for their behavior in school, and for their ability to learn."

Many schools have increased breakfast participation by changing how the meal is served - letting the kids eat in class, or grabbing their breakfast and taking it with them. Fisher said these techniques work - and don't turn the meal into a disruption. Quite the opposite, she said.

"Schools making breakfast part of the day, while they're taking roll or doing other work," she said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be an interruption to instruction. And it also, we've also heard from many teachers, helps build community."

The first week in March is National School Breakfast Week.

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