As a school district educating students from mostly lower-income families, Atlanta Public Schools faces numerous challenges in ensuring children are ready for school each day, especially those who come to school hungry.
We’ve seen the research: Children whose nutritional needs are met throughout the day have fewer attendance and disciplinary problems and are more attentive in class. According to the School Nutrition Association, a healthy meal in the morning boosts students’ academic performance, grades and test scores; increases concentration, alertness, comprehension and memory; and improves classroom behavior.
We also know that more than half a million Georgia children suffer from what has become known as “food insecurity,” according to a 2018 bulletin by the advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children. In 2017, about one in five children in Georgia had limited or uncertain access to adequate food, according to the Feeding America. That’s slightly higher than the national rate.
So I could not be more excited when APS qualified this year for a national program that enabled us to provide free meals to ALL students! Through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), 77 of our schools now provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge with no meal applications!
Our Department of Nutrition has also implemented the Access to Breakfast for every Child (ABC) initiative that ensures that all elementary and middle school students are offered breakfast throughout the first hour of the school day.
For a district that serves more than 155,000 meals each and every week, that equates to feeding an additional 2,100 to 2,700 students every day!
As part of the stipulations of the program, APS is required to maintain certain participation levels to continue the program. While many students take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch meals at schools, overall student participation in breakfast and lunch needs to increase from the current districtwide percentage of 65% to 79%.
Getting to 79% participation districtwide will ensure the continued CEP designation for APS.
That’s why the district has launched a “Fuel Your Day” awareness campaign to get more students eating breakfast and lunch at school. In addition to educating our families about the need for good nutrition every day, we want to provide them with more options to just eating in the cafeteria. Our schools are trying out Grab & Go Carts, where students receive meals from carts located in the entrance hall or in each hallway and eat the meal on the way to class or in class. Our Breakfast in the Classroom program allows students to eat in other designated dining areas in school or even in classrooms with their teachers.
So Fuel Your Day … and this program … by having breakfast and lunch at school!
According to the School Nutrition Association, current research demonstrates that school breakfast consumption has many positive proven benefits:
- Boosts students’ academic performance, grades and test scores
- Increases concentration, alertness, comprehension and memory
- Improves classroom behavior
- Reduces absenteeism and tardiness
School breakfast participation is also linked to:
- A lower body mass index (BMI)
- Lower probability of being overweight or obese
- Improved diet quality Federal nutrition standards ensure school breakfast offers nutritious choices including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat milk while meeting limits on calories, unhealthy fat and sodium.