A survey of nearly 300 New Jersey school officials found that districts with successful breakfast programs were able to easily meet the challenges of serving breakfast during the first few minutes of the school day.
Officials in these districts also said students and schools benefited when more children began their day with a healthy meal.
The survey was conducted by the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign and Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
The survey also found, however, that many districts still serve breakfast before school starts, when bus and family schedules and other factors prevent children from getting a morning meal. This approach has kept New Jersey nearly last in the nation for its low 30 percent participation in the federal School Breakfast Program.
Serving breakfast right after school starts, known as “breakfast after the bell,” significantly increases student participation, reduces childhood hunger and helps children succeed in school.
“The fact that more New Jersey districts are beginning to step up to meet the school breakfast challenge is encouraging,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which is leading the NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign. “Serving breakfast after the bell is very do-able and can help kids succeed in school.”
Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, co-leader of the school breakfast campaign, added that more work remains to be done.
“It is encouraging that schools are realizing that barriers to serving breakfast after the bell can be easily overcome,” LaTourette said. “We need to get this message out to other districts that have not yet met the school breakfast challenge. As poverty grows, this is one of the most effective ways to battle childhood hunger.”
The survey, conducted by the NJ Food for Thought Campaign and Advocates for Children of New Jersey, garnered responses from nearly 300 districts across New Jersey.
Most respondents – 88 percent -- served school breakfast in some way to their students.
Of those, 38 served breakfast after the bell. The majority (68%) of these districts said that perceived challenges – cost, clean-up and lost instructional time -- were easily overcome.
These respondents also reported significant benefits for students and school staff. The top benefit cited was that students are able to better concentrate with a full stomach. New Jersey school officials also reported fewer trips to the school nurse and less disruptive classroom behavior.
However, roughly 62 percent of respondents are still serving breakfast before school and just 26 percent of these 150 districts said that school officials in their district have considered implementing breakfast after the bell.
These respondents cited clean-up as the most common barrier to implementing breakfast after the bell, with 68 percent citing this issue. Despite the fact that state guidance was issued in January 2012 that breakfast time can count toward the instructional day, districts cited this issue as the second most common reason why they have not yet implemented breakfast after the bell.
“This really speaks to the need to educate school officials about the logistics of serving breakfast after the bell,” LaTourette said. “This does not take away from instructional time. In fact, it makes classroom time more effective because there are fewer disruptions once lessons get underway.”
Led by Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, the NJ Food For Thought School Breakfast campaign is driven by a statewide steering committee that includes New Jersey anti-hunger, education and health organizations, the state departments of education, agriculture and health and child advocates. The campaign has set a goal to increase school breakfast participation by 30 percent by June 2013.
“Through our collective efforts, New Jersey can emerge as a leader in ensuring that every child begins their school day with a healthy meal,” Zalkind said.
For more information on the campaign or to review the survey report, go to www.njschoolbreakfast.org.