Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Breakfast After the Bell program grants available

Student consumption of healthy breakfasts has soared in Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 under a new program providing the first meal of the day in classrooms.

Previously 10 percent to 15 percent of eligible students partook of school breakfast offerings, according to District 21 officials, but with the Breakfast After the Bell program about 70 percent of qualifying students are participating. The Wheeling students have eaten hundreds of thousands of additional breakfasts this year thanks to the program, officials said.

Principal Rita Janus says it has been exciting to see the kids embrace Breakfast After the Bell. She points to research showing students who eat breakfast have improved memory and attention in the classroom.

School officials say a key benefit of the breakfast in the classroom service model is that children receiving the free breakfast no longer are eating before school in a separate location where everyone can see them.

Kids tend to label and stigmatize others who participate in programs that make them easily identifiable, school officials explain. But there is no stigma associated with getting your day off to a good start when you are part of an overwhelming majority of students.

The initiative springs from a state law requiring school districts to provide breakfast to students if 70 percent or more are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, are classified as low-income, or can be claimed for free or reduced-price meals. Districts may determine the service model that best suits their students, and are exempt if 70 percent or more of free or reduced-price eligible students are being served through existing breakfast programs or if the expense reimbursement would not cover the costs of implementation.

Illinois school districts can still make the March 30 Breakfast After the Bell grant application deadline for this school year. Grants support schools with the purchase of equipment, materials, and initiatives facilitating delivery models. Illinois schools are eligible for an estimated $51.7 million in added Breakfast After the Bell grant funding this year, which is the additional amount Illinois schools could claim if 70 low-income students were served school breakfast for every 100 who are served school lunch, according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). FRAC has designated that as an attainable goal for Illinois schools.

Schools can apply online at http://riseandshineillinois.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Breakfast-Illinois-final.pdf.  

Schools that have already received a grant for Breakfast After the Bell and are seeking additional funds may email Nital Patel, senior manager of child nutrition policy, at npatel@gcfd.org.