By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Research indicates students who eat breakfast perform better in the classroom.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, students make fewer mistakes, work faster and behave better when they have eaten breakfast.
“Breakfast is so important,” said Krista Neal, director of child nutrition for Stillwater Public Schools.
It’s so important, Neal said, that the Stillwater district will provide free breakfasts to students beginning in the 2013-14 school year.
“By giving breakfast free to any child, regardless of what school they go to or their economic status, we are removing one of those barriers to kids eating breakfast. ... There is tons and tons of research that shows that kids who eat breakfast do better academically, and we know that there are barriers to kids eating breakfast. I can’t control all of those barriers, but I can control a few of them, and one of those is cost. So let’s remove that barrier and make it free for everyone.”
Neal said the district will conduct a pilot program of offering free breakfast in the classroom in May at Will Rogers Elementary School for pre-kindergarten, second-grade and fifth-grade.
Neal will monitor the program and make a data analysis of participation.
“We want to pilot the breakfast in the classroom program on a small scale so that we ... can get the kinks out,” Neal said. “We want to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Jim Ryan, assistant superintendent for Stillwater schools, said there will be an upfront cost of approximately $10,000 for trash cans and coolers for classrooms.
Neal said having breakfast in the classroom will not cut into instruction time. She said at Will Rogers, students will eat breakfast in the classroom during morning announcements.
She said during breakfast, students can read aloud, work on math problems, practice spelling, review prior lessons, review for tests or listen to a guest speaker.
“It’s not taking away from instruction time, it’s adding a different level of instruction,” Neal said.
Statistics indicate that 28.2 percent of the students in the district ate breakfast at school from August to December 2012. In October 2012, only 6.5 percent of the high school students ate breakfast at school. The highest participation was at Will Rogers, where 58.5 percent of the students ate breakfast at school.
Ryan said the district is looking into the possibility of providing breakfast carts in various locations at the secondary schools. He said the “grab and go” breakfast idea might encourage more students to eat breakfast at convenient locations instead of hurrying to the cafeteria at a campus as spread out as Stillwater High School.
Neal said some parents worry that providing free breakfast might lead to childhood obesity. She said school breakfast provides only 25 percent of a child’s calories for a day.
“A kid is not going to get obese because of that school breakfast,” Neal said.
The cost of school lunches will increase 10 cents next year, following a directive from the United States Department of Agriculture. The elementary school lunches will increase from $2.10 to $2.20 and the secondary school lunches will increase from $2.35 to $2.45.
“Still a pretty good deal,” Neal said. “Still cheaper than a Happy Meal, and healthier.”