Saturday, March 1, 2003

Kids' breakfasts go begging

Many eligible aren't signed up for school programs

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] How's Trix? The Trix Rabbit (you know, the silly one) gives a hug to fourth-grader Diamond Crawford-Smith (left) and third-grader Aisha Dixon during a visit to Sharonville Elementary School on Thursday. The rabbit and the Lucky Charms leprechaun were on hand to promote National School Breakfast Week next week.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Thousands of impoverished Ohio students eligible for a free or reduced-price school breakfast aren't getting them.

And millions of dollars in federal aid for the programs is going unused for those and other nutrition programs, according to a report issued this month by a nonprofit nutrition advocacy group.

As high-stakes proficiency tests are administered beginning next week in Ohio, nutrition advocates are emphasizing the importance of having children eat healthy breakfasts.

"If a school doesn't have a school breakfast program, it's like tying one arm behind kids' backs," said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

The Washington based center's report on food and nutrition programs coincides with next week's National School Breakfast Week.

Evidence suggests that students who eat breakfast perform better on tests, have better attendance and achieve better in school overall, Weill said.

Yet only 55 percent of Ohio schools that participate in the federal school lunch program take advantage of the federal school breakfast program.

Children from families at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line can receive breakfasts and lunches for free. Schools receive reimbursements from the federal government for those services.

Nationally, 78 percent of schools that offer lunch programs offered the breakfast programs in the 2001-02 school year.

In Kentucky, 91 percent of schools that offer the lunch programs offer breakfasts.

For parents
To enroll in school breakfast and lunch programs, contact your child's principal. Enrollment forms generally go home with children at the beginning of a school year, but students can sign up throughout the year as family circumstances change.
For organizations
Ohio Department of Education Office of Child Nutrition Services: (800) 808-MEAL (6325) toll free; in-state (614) 466-2945; Web site.
Ohio Children's Hunger Alliance: (800) 227-6446 or (614) 341-7700; Web site.
Because of Ohio schools' low participation in breakfast programs, only about one out of every three Ohio students - 37 percent - who received a free or reduced-price lunch also received a federally subsidized breakfast last year.

The breakfasts are especially important during this time of economic uncertainty and rising unemployment, say organizations like the Food Research and Action Center and the Columbus-based Children's Hunger Alliance.

Even among schools that offer breakfast programs, participation is lacking, said Dianne Radigan, chief operating officer of Children's Hunger Alliance, a non-profit children's nutrition advocacy organization.

For example, in the 6,150-student Princeton City Schools, the district serves between 1,100 and 1,300 free or reduced-price lunches a day. Yet the district serves only about 785 free or reduced-price breakfasts.

One reason is that the district doesn't offer breakfast at the high school, but does offer lunch, said district spokesman Chris Gramke.

The reasons fewer kids opt for breakfast could be manifold, district officials say.

Some kids eat breakfast at home. Some don't wake up early enough. Some parents don't fill out the required forms.

"Our main goal is to have all kids get a good breakfast before they start school, be it at home or in our cafeteria, and our breakfast program provides that option for those who choose to use it," Gramke said.

In Cincinnati Public, more than 28,000 students this year are eligible for free and reduced-price breakfasts. The average daily participation last year was just over 9,000.

The district would welcome more students participating in free and reduced-price breakfast programs, which are offered in all the elementary schools and all but one of the high schools, said district spokeswoman Janet Walsh. But many don't.

"It is possible that they are eating breakfast at home," she said. "But it's entirely possible that they're skipping breakfast because that would allow them to sleep in longer or it's possible that they have a relatively early lunch period at school.

Radigan said she attended a breakfast program at Cincinnati's Rothenberg Elementary Friday in Over-the-Rhine and saw about 60 students participating in the breakfast program despite a school enrollment of more than 300 students. More than 90 percent qualify for free and reduced-price food programs.

Kids say the breakfast is a great jump-start for the school day.

Raven Blair, an 11-year-old fourth grader at Sharonville Elementary in Princeton City Schools, said she eats breakfast at school daily.

"At home in the morning, I don't have time to eat breakfast," she said. "If I miss breakfast, my stomach really gets rumbling."


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