Classroom breakfast program gets failing grade from many
In addition to learning and homework, more and more schools across the country have started handing out something else to students: breakfast. The number of breakfasts served in U.S. schools has doubled in the last 20 years.
For many years, some schools have provided low-income students free or reduced-priced breakfasts, served in the cafeteria. That has started to change. Now schools are starting to serve children breakfast in the classroom. They also are providing breakfast to all students, no matter if they are rich or poor.
Some supporters of the program say it benefits students. However, others believe that serving food in the classroom takes up time that should be devoted to learning. They also say the programs waste food by serving it to kids who do not want or need to eat.
Learning Is Easier On A Full Stomach
The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second-largest district in the United States. It has about 650,000 students in kindergarten through grade 12. Over the last few years it has been expanding its breakfast program. By the end of the school year, the LA district will be serving breakfast in class at nearly every school. More schools nationwide have increased breakfast service. Since 1994, the number of breakfasts served has climbed from about 1 billion each year to 2.3 billion a year.
Across the country, 51 percent of children are considered to be low-income, up from 32 percent in 1989. In a number of school districts, the majority of those kids qualify for a free or reduced-price meal.
People who support serving breakfast in the classroom believe it is the best way to make sure all children are ready to learn and are fed. Students who come to school hungry, they argue, are at a disadvantage. It is harder to learn when you have not eaten.
Not All Schools Want To Do It
At Stanley Mosk Elementary, a school in Los Angeles, breakfast is served each morning. Teachers help distribute the meal, check off which students are eating and show a video that has a nutrition lesson. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. On a recent morning, students were given apples, cereal and a small, packaged breakfast sandwich. By the end of the meal, there was a large cooler filled with uneaten breakfast sandwiches.
"I think it's a good way for students to eat here because sometimes at home they're in such a rush," said 10-year-old Fatima Nassar. "Sometimes I see students throw it away."
In Los Angeles, not everyone supports the classroom breakfasts. Recently, some parents from wealthier schools have begun to protest the free food programs. They convinced the district to let some schools choose to not take part in the program. Now 32 schools in the district can opt out of the program if fewer than 20 percent of their students are low-income.
Parents at UCLA Community School also organized a protest. They claimed the in-class breakfasts took away instructional time from students. Low-income and English-learner students, they said, need all the class time they can get. These groups score lower in reading and math. The parents also worried that serving food in classrooms was unsanitary.
"That's What The Cafeteria Is For"
About 10 years ago, school and food experts began to investigate the nation's school breakfast programs. They found great differences in the types of programs offered across districts and states. Some districts did not offer breakfast at all. Others provided food before class, but students had to arrive early.
Not everyone has embraced the idea of breakfast during the school day. In New York City, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was against serving breakfast in class. He was concerned that it might encourage children to eat twice. The current city mayor, Bill de Blasio, is a supporter, but the program only exists in a small number of New York City schools.
At the UCLA Community School, parents plan to continue to speak out against classroom breakfasts.
"We want them to serve it in the cafeteria," Raquel Martinez, a mother of three, said. "That's what the cafeteria is for."