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Turning Classrooms Into Cafeterias To Boost Learning

More schools may soon be serving up breakfast along with morning lessons thanks to $7.5 million in new funding.

A grant from the Walmart Foundation will support Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom to help school districts in 10 states bring school breakfast out of the cafeteria and make it part of the classroom routine. Up to 30,000 students may benefit from the new grant which is available in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.  

“We know that with 1 in 5 American children food insecure, coming to school without their nutritional needs being met, that it’s really hard for us to meet their needs academically,” said Scott DiMauro, a high school social studies teacher and Vice President of the Ohio Education Association, which is one of the state-level partners involved in Breakfast in the Classroom. 

The program, now in its fourth year, is designed as a companion to the federal government's School Breakfast Program, which provides funding to help states operate nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and residential childcare organizations. 

School children qualify for the SBP if their families earn less than 130 percent of the Federal poverty level. For 2013-2014, that was $30,615 for a family of four. Children whose families fall between 130 and 185 percent of the Federal poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals. 

Numerous studies have found that eating breakfast can improve academic achievement and boost standardized test scores.

In 2015, about 3 million households faced food insecurity that affected children, according to a study from the Department of Agriculture. While kids in these households are not necessarily going hungry all the time, their families may not always know where their next meal is coming from. 

The prevalence of food insecurity had declined from 14.9 percent of U.S. households in 2011 to 12.7 percent in 2015, thanks in part to programs like SBP and Breakfast in the Classroom. 

The SBP is intended to ensure that low-income and food-insecure students are able to eat breakfast. Yet, a 2016 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that fourth through sixth grade students participated in the program on only 31.2 percent of possible days. The study also found that 13 percent never participated at all.

“In the cafeteria isn't the most effective way of serving all students,” DiMauro said. “There’s a stigma. There's a perception that only the poor kids do that.”

There also logistical issues. Some students may arrive later than others, leaving them little time to eat. Others may simply skip breakfast because they’re busy doing something else, like socializing or getting extra help from teachers.

Feeding every students in the classroom is one way of addressing these issues. “This is a naturally integrated way of helping students with their nutritional needs while they're learning,” DiMauro said. “There’s no stigma. Everyone is getting a healthy nutritious meal to begin the day.”
 
The program is targeted at schools where a high enough percentage of children are eligible for SBP that all students can partake in the breakfast. Grant funding can be used to buy food carts or other materials necessary to transport food from the cafeteria and serve it in the classroom.
 
Grants operate on a three-year cycle. In the first year, schools investigate need for the program and file a grant application. In the second year, they get funding and start implementing the program. In the third year, they track results and make decisions about whether they want to continue serving breakfast in the classroom setting.
 
School districts in 18 states have already taken advantage of the Breakfast in the Classroom program. The funding from the Walmart foundation will help increase participation within three states and introduce the program in seven new states.
 
“There is lots of evidence that this is a model that works. We find that once schools and districts have success with it that they continue with the implementation of this delivery model even after the grant is finished,” DiMauro said.