Detroit Public Schools is ensuring more children start the day with a healthy meal through its Breakfast in the Classroom program, which provides free meals for every child regardless of household income or Title I status.
The district is calling attention to this program, now in its second year, as part of an effort to increase participation in free and reduced-priced meal programs. Despite the high rate of poverty, participation in free- and reduced-price meal programs continues to trail the rate of eligible students.
“Hunger prevents many students from achieving their best, which is why it’s so important that parents take advantage of the free- and reduced-price meals available to them,” said Janet Tisdale, Interim Executive Director of the DPS Office of Food Service. “Even if a family is going through economic hardship, their children can still receive up to three meals a day in school. The application process is very simple, and forms are available at every school. ”
Only 15 percent of the district’s high school students participate in the program, even though 80 percent are eligible. About 88 percent of the district’s K-8 students qualify for free- or reduced-priced meals, based on their household incomes, yet only 67 percent participate.
Breakfast in the Classroom is breaking down the stigma of meal programs because every student is served, regardless of income. The program is mandatory for every kindergarten through eighth-grade classroom throughout the district and will get a boost later this fall when some hot meals will be introduced.
Research has shown that students who eat a balanced breakfast perform better academically than students who do not.
“Students who don’t have breakfast in the morning are restless in class and tend to lay their heads down,” said Sharon Lawson, principal of Pasteur Elementary School. “Students who eat breakfast are more energized and more ready to learn. It gives a boost to their day.”
Each pre-packaged breakfast contains milk, fruit or juice and a grain, such as graham crackers, low-sugar cereal or breakfast bars. Egg-based items such as breakfast tortillas will be introduced later this year, once a provider is selected.
The meals are delivered to classrooms via blue carts filled with enough meals for every student who wants one. In many schools, students are designated to retrieve the cart for their classrooms. In lower grades, teachers or staff members retrieve the carts and help serve them.
Breakfast typically lasts about 15 minutes, and many teachers use that time for brief academic lessons or activities, student discussions or as teachable moments in which students learn healthy eating habits, good table manners and punctuality.
“Parents have one less thing to worry about in the morning as they rush to get their children off to school, increasing the chances that children will show up on time and ready to learn,” Tisdale said.
DPS students are able to receive free or reduced meals if they meet basic guidelines:
– Family income is at or below 130 percent of the poverty level
– A child whose family income is between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level can receive reduced-cost meals (Students in this category charged 40 cents per meal)
– After-school snacks and supper are provided for children using the same income guidelines; however, students attending a school where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for Meal Benefits are all provided snacks and supper free of charge. This applies to most DPS schools.
Applications for free or reduced-priced meals are also available at every school, or the DPS Office of Food Services, 1425 E. Warren Ave.
About Breakfast in the Classroom:
About 5.4 million breakfasts were served in the 2008-2009 school year, the most recent year for which data are available.
The program cost about $9.7 million in the 2008-2009 school year.
The cost per meal was $1.79.
The program is funded through grants.