Monday, March 17, 2008

Bringing Everyone to the Table: Increasing the Accessibility of Free School Meals

Only 29% of New York City public school students who are eligible for free lunch also receive free breakfast, compared to nearly 98% in Portland, Oregon and 93% in Newark. Participation has risen from 20.3% in the 2006-2007 school year, as NYCCAH has joined with city officials to increase awareness of this disparity. Research has repeatedly shown the positive effect of eating breakfast on school performance, and recent studies have shown that adolescents who eat breakfast regularly have a lower risk of obesity. Researchers stress the importance of teaching teens to eat breakfast, but for many, the accessibility of free school breakfast is marred by the stigma of accepting free meals, which affects the participation rates of free school meals programs nationwide. Said one San Francisco high school student, “kids who wear nice shoes and nice clothes don’t want to be associated with food that says ‘I’m not able to provide for myself.’” The Coalition has repeatedly stressed the importance of serving breakfast in the classroom so that participants do not have to be separated from their peers. Similar policies have been linked to rising participation rates in other urban school districts. This makes sense not only for students, but also for the city budget: “If only 70-percent of the children eligible for breakfast got them, that would bring 49-million-dollars more in federal funding to New York City because every single free and reduced priced breakfast is reimbursed by the federal government” said NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg.

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