Not every student who receives free and reduced-price lunch at the school cafeteria eats a solid breakfast before boarding the bus. In Texas, where 27.6 percent of children are considered food-insecure, the public school system is a primary infrastructure for reigning in childhood hunger.
Next week, during National School Breakfast Week (March 3-7), the Texas Hunger Initiative, based out of the Baylor University School of Social Work, will release its second edition of the Texas School Breakfast Report Card, demonstrating what participation in school breakfast programs looks like across the state. Designed with school administrators and nutrition personnel in mind, the Texas School Breakfast Report Card provides an introduction to child hunger in Texas while also laying out pragmatic models for breakfast distribution in schools, a breakdown of associated benefits, success stories and suggested goals for school officials trying to create a healthy, hunger-free learning environment.
The full report can be downloaded at http://www.baylor.edu/texashunger/doc.php/219549.pdf.
"The Texas School Breakfast Report Card is unique because it summarizes the state of the School Breakfast Program in Texas. There is no state-level resource that summarizes the program while also providing a layout of eligibility and participation numbers by every county and district in Texas," said Kathy Krey, Ph.D., director of research for the Texas Hunger Initiative. "THI developed the report as a program outreach and advocacy tool. The resource is invaluable for anyone interested in maximizing the social and health impact of the School Breakfast Program."
What is the Texas School Breakfast Report Card?
The report catalogues two sets of data intended to help Texas school officials understand the state of school breakfast in their districts and the potential for growth. The first table frames school breakfast participation over the previous three years. The other is a projection of the impact in terms of what student participation and additional federal funding might look like if 70 percent of children eligible for free and reduced-price lunch ate breakfast at school.
Since each Texas county and respective school districts are represented in the piece, THI's Texas School Breakfast Report Card offers a detailed look at school breakfast participation in each Texas county and school district.
Among the key findings from the Texas School Breakfast Report Card for the 2012-2013 academic year: • Texas served 309,916,119 breakfasts during the 2012-2013 school year for a state reimbursement of $485,323,072. • At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, Texas had 61 percent statewide participation in the School Breakfast Program (per 100 students eating free or reduced-price lunch). • If each Texas school district reached the goal of serving 70 low-income students per 100 low-income students eating lunch, the state would receive an additional $84,635,101 in federal reimbursement. • The following Texas independent school districts doubled (at least) their breakfast participation rates between the 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 school years: Hart, Spurger, Garner, Alice, Lovejoy and Dilley ISDs.
According to Erin Nolen, research project manager at the Texas Hunger Initiative (THI), breaking down the data by county and by school district has been "invaluable" to outreach efforts because it allows the report to serve as a practical resource to THI field staff when meeting with local school officials.
"Our field staff are able to point to the report and say, 'Here's what your school breakfast participation looks like and here's what it could be if you were to reach the goal of 70 percent participation, in terms of the number of students that would be impacted and the funding you would receive,'" Nolen said. "It's an all-in-one resource that includes both the data component as well as the program overview component."
Grace Norman, a child hunger outreach specialist for THI's Lubbock Regional Office, said the report is also helpful in that the stories of success in increasing school breakfast participation in other regions are presented side by side with the data.
"It brings credibility to our advocacy efforts in schools to be able to show that such research has been conducted and is currently being conducted to stay up to date with the school year," Norman said.
Alternative Breakfast Models/ Success Stories
Texas public and open-charter schools are required to participate in the School Breakfast Program if 10 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced-price lunches. The federal program funds morning meals for those students who are considered low-income.
Unfortunately, hungry students can miss out on breakfast when program application models are not fully maximized.
"Research has shown that participation tends to be lower when breakfast is served in the cafeteria before school starts," Norman said. "I advocate with school districts who have experienced low participation in breakfast to serve breakfast in different ways that might better fit their schools' needs while helping to overcome stigmas and social barriers that tend to be present with the traditional school breakfast model."
The report details some of these "different ways" schools might apply their breakfast programs. Examples of alternative models that have shown positive results are serving breakfast in the classroom or out of kiosks stationed around hallways.
Jon Coker, a second-year assistant principal at Connally Junior High School in McLennan County, has been in education for 11 years, but this is his first time to serve as an administrator at a school that offers an alternative breakfast model. Connally offers the Universal School Breakfast program, which allows schools to offer breakfast at no charge to all students, regardless of income status.
"Everyone gets breakfast now. There is still some stigma with lunch, because it's obvious who has to pay versus who just goes through the line," Coker said. "But the Universal program has done some to help alleviate that at breakfast."
Coker said that he has also noticed a difference in punctuality and attendance.
"Before the program was implemented, students who struggle to afford meals at school knew they couldn't buy breakfast, so they were just straggling in," Coker said. "But now that they can get a breakfast here, I see more kids coming to school on time, either riding the bus or their parents dropping them off."
Research on the Horizon
The Texas Hunger Initiative also has engaged in research analyzing the social and health impact of the universal-free Breakfast in the Classroom model in select elementary schools in a large Texas school district. The findings of the research are forthcoming.
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