Contact: Nancy Parello, Communications Director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, 973-643-3876, 908-399-6031, firstname.lastname@example.org
New Jersey schools are feeding breakfast to about 48,000 more low-income children each school day, giving students the morning meal they need to concentrate and learn, according to a new report released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
|Read the report|
The number of New Jersey students eating a healthy breakfast at school rose from about 136,000 children in October 2010 to nearly 184,000 in April 2013, the report found. As a result of this increase, districts are expected to collect $10 million more in federal reimbursements this year alone, according to the state FY 2014 budget.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) released its 3rd annual NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Report and district-level data today at the John Marshall Elementary School in Edison, which is now serving breakfast in the classroom in all of the district’s schools.
“School breakfast addresses a major barrier to learning,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “School districts should be commended for stepping up to meet the school breakfast challenge. Unfortunately, there is still much work to do. An alarming 320,000 children are still missing out on that all-important morning meal at school.
“And the need is growing,” Zalkind added. “New census data show that the number of low-income New Jersey children has grown 19 percent in the past five years. That means more children are likely arriving in the classroom hungry.”
The increase in breakfast participation is largely the result of more districts changing the way they serve breakfast. Traditionally, New Jersey schools have served breakfast before school, when children have not yet arrived. Now, a growing number of schools are serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day. Known as “breakfast after the bell,” this approach significantly boosts student participation in the federal School Breakfast Program.
Still, many districts continue to serve breakfast before school, resulting in just 36 percent of eligible children participating. If New Jersey schools fed all eligible children, schools would receive an estimated $85 million more in federal funds to feed hungry children.
ACNJ’s report identifies “School Breakfast Champs” – districts with a high percentage of eligible students eating breakfast at school and “School Breakfast Underachievers” – districts with high concentrations of child poverty and low school breakfast participation.
The top three breakfast champs among low-income districts were Greater Brunswick Charter School, Egg Harbor City and D.U.E. Season Charter School, with student participation rates of 100, 88 and 87 percent, respectively. The worst performing high-poverty districts were Benjamin Banneker Preparatory Charter School, Jersey City Community Charter School and Paulo Freire Charter School. All reported serving no eligible students, according to data from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
ACNJ also released data for every school district with at least 20 percent of students eligible for free- and reduced-priced school meals. State law requires these districts to provide school breakfast. Nearly all do, but many continue to serve it before school when bus and family schedules and other factors prevent children from arriving at school with enough time to eat before the first bell rings.
ACNJ ranked counties based on their student participation. Cumberland ranked first, feeding 57 percent of eligible children, while Hunterdon was last, serving just 11 percent of the county’s low-income children.
“It is our hope that school officials, parents, advocates and others will use these data to identify districts that are doing well on this front – and those that need to rise up to meet the school breakfast challenge,” Zalkind said.
Two years ago, Edison Superintendent Richard O’Malley started the switch from serving breakfast before school to breakfast after the bell. Prior to making this change, less than 1 percent of eligible Edison students were receiving that breakfast. Now, the district is serving more than 70 percent of eligible students. O’Malley said the increase in federal meal reimbursements has covered the cost of providing breakfast to students.
“It is working exceptionally well,” O’Malley said. “Everyone has bought into this – teachers, principals, custodial staff, parents. I hear from parents all the time who are so pleased that they have this option. Classroom time is more productive, so it really boosts instructional time and academic achievement is at an all-time high.”
The NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign, a coalition of state departments, major education groups and anti-hunger advocates, issued a school breakfast challenge to districts across New Jersey. Three districts in North Jersey and three districts in South Jersey will win grants to buy breakfast equipment. The top two districts will win a pep rally with an NFL player, courtesy of the American Dairy Association and Council and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Council, campaign partners. Districts have until Oct. 31 to register at www.njschoolbreakfast.org.
“We are calling on school boards and superintendents to provide leadership in expanding school breakfast because this makes smart sense for children, schools and the state as a whole,” Zalkind said. “Hungry children struggle to learn. Providing breakfast leverages the billions of dollars we invest each year in educating our children, ensuring that more students succeed in school.”
For more information, visit www.njschoolbreakfast.org.