More Syracuse students are eating breakfast than ever before, say school officials.
“It’s a dramatic increase,” said Ken Warner, food and nutrition director for the Syracuse City School District.
In the 2012-13 school year, the number of low-income students eating breakfast at school through the “Breakfast in the Classroom” program increased by 34.9 percent from the previous school year, according to a study by the Food Research and Action Center. The number grew from 7,667 students 2011-12 to 10,344 in 2012-13.
Both Warner and the study cite as the reasons for the growth two particular programs: “Breakfast in the Classroom” and an expansion of the government-funded free-lunch program. “Breakfast in the Classroom” allows students to pick up food from “grab and go” stations, vending machines and classrooms. The expanded free-lunch program, also known as the “Community Eligibility” program, gives free meals to all students in the school district.
Syracuse was granted the expanded free-lunch program because about 80 percent of its students already qualified for free or reduced-price meals, Warner said.
The programs have been beneficial to students, Warner said. “The kids are more ready for class – they don’t have to deal with the craziness of the cafeteria,” Warner said. “We always had a big showing for lunch, simply because you had more time to eat.”
The “Breakfast in the Classroom” program is funded by a grant from the Walmart Foundation awarded through the American Association of School Administrators. The program began in Syracuse during the 2011-12 school year, Warner said. The Walmart Foundation provided the district $450,000 mostly in the form of equipment to use for the program.
The federally-funded expanded free-lunch program began in the district during the 2012-13 school year and is regulated by the state, Warner said. The district is reimbursed for about 95 percent of all meals served, he said.
The growth in Syracuse’s school breakfast program was acknowledged by the Food Research and Action Center. The study examined 63 large school districts nationwide and their proportions of students who got free or reduced-price breakfast to those who received free or reduced-price lunch. In the study, Syracuse did a better job than most other districts. Syracuse ranked 14th among the 63 large school districts. In state rankings, New York placed 41st.
New York can do a better job of getting more students to eat breakfast at school, said Carol Beebe, executive director of the New York School Nutrition Association. The main obstacle is getting school administrators and staff members to make school breakfast a priority, Beebe said. She suggested opening school buildings earlier, providing supervisors for the cafeteria and having custodians to clean the cafeteria before classes.
“It’s just a matter of the principal seeing the value of breakfast for every student,” Beebe said.
Patricia Grogan, school lunch director for the Jamesville-DeWitt School District, is among the school districts that struggles to get students into the program. In her district, six percent of students in the district eat breakfast from the school, she said. And 12 percent of the students who receive free lunch also eat free breakfast, she added.
Like Beebe, Grogan said she believes several factors influence the number of students having breakfast at school, particularly how early the buses arrive and whether or not students can eat in class.
“Some teachers don’t want them eating in the classroom,” Grogan said. “And that’s not really conducive to breakfast.”
(Kristen Eskow is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism.)