It’s a lesson that kids learn at a very early age: start every day with a good breakfast.
Apparently, more than a few New Jersey school leaders have forgotten it.
Despite the requirements, the common sense, and even ample federal money, New Jersey’s public schools provide free breakfast to just a third of the low-income students entitled to it, leaving roughly 200,000 children without a guarantee of that first meal.
Some of the worst offenders are in cities where the nutrition may be needed most, including two districts operated by the state, Paterson and Jersey City.
The Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a Newark-based organization, yesterday hosted a star-studded presentation of its latest findings about participationin the breakfast program.
Held at Newark’s East Side High School, much of the event was given over to positive news, as ACNJ announced that the number of students participating rose more than 20 percent from the organization’s first report two years ago.
On hand were a number of luminaries, including state Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Fisher, Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson.
Of New Jersey’s three state-operated districts, Newark was one of the luminaries, where 70 percent of eligible students are fed each morning, the ACNJ said.
But it was clearly an exception in a state with one of the worst participation rates in the country.
A separate analysis last year by the Food Research and Action Center, a national group, found that New Jersey was 48th out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., that serves breakfast to kids who receive free or subsidized lunches.
That is part of the challenge: the breakfast participation is so much lower than it is for lunch, even for the same students who are eligible.
The law requires all schools with at least 20 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch to also have a breakfast program. But breakfast poses particular obstacles, including how to serve specified students who come to school at different times; how not to interfere with the start of instruction; and even how to clean it all up.
In many districts, the breakfast program is dished up before the school day starts, but that may leave out a large number who come on school buses or can’t get there early. More districts are starting to serve up breakfast in the classroom, but that adds to the logistical challenges of how to handle and clean up the food.
Schools have come up with some novel solutions, such as providing “brown bag” breakfasts for students as they walk into school. A few are serving breakfast to all students, regardless of income. Edison does this, with ineligible students being charged a nominal sum.
In North Brunswick, cleanup is made easier by supplying a trash bag for each classroom that's left outside of the door for custodial staff to retrieve. Newark schools have the students themselves help in passing out and cleaning up after breakfast. Newark East Side High School serves every one of its 1,500 students, one of the few high schools in the state to do so, officials said.
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