School Leaders Discuss Expanding School Breakfast Programs
By SUZANNE CARLSON
April 26, 2013
EAST HARTFORD —— Education leaders from across Connecticut gathered at Rentschler Field Friday for the second annual Connecticut School Breakfast Summit, where they shared strategies for providing healthy morning meals to hungry students.
The state has ranked last in the nation for the past eight years in terms of providing breakfast at school. Only 64.6 percent of state schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program also participate in the school breakfast program, an "abysmal" rate, according to a report by the event's co-sponsor, End Hunger CT.
While there has been some recent improvement, with 28 schools added to the breakfast program two years ago and 59 last year, state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor called the state's last-place ranking a "dubious distinction that we need to change."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said towns should be taking advantage of federal funding for food programs, with some $20 million "left on the table in Washington" last year because schools did not participate in a breakfast program, even for students who are eligible for free or reduced price meals.
Only 45 percent of state students who receive free and reduced price lunch also receive breakfast.
Reduced-price eligibility among students is 76.7 percent in Hartford, but only 39.6 percent of those students attend schools with breakfast programs, meaning $2.5 million of available federal funding was not utilized, officials said.
East Hartford's ratio of 63.2 percent of reduced-price-eligible students, with 44.1 percent being served breakfast, meant that $639,328 was unused. Other cities reported similar figures, according to End Hunger CT.
Malloy said children need good nutrition to learn and schools need to do more to help.
"We know they need lunch. We know they depend on us. We know that their academic and personal success is, in part, a result of us feeding them lunch, and we don't feed them breakfast. It makes no sense at all," Malloy said. "We have defined who needs our help. Giving the help is within our reach and for all intents and purposes is free, and we're still failing to feed those children."
Keynote speaker Katie Wilson, executive director of the National Food Service Management Institute, said students who don't have enough to eat can't be expected to perform at their highest level.
"They need to be fed well, not a doughnut and Mountain Dew on the way to school," Wilson said. Studies show absenteeism, distraction, and related behavioral issues are reduced when students have adequate nutrition throughout the day, she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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