LYNN — Next year, all elementary students in the Lynn Public Schools will be able to eat breakfast for free in the classroom, part of a program aimed at ensuring no kids go hungry.
The district will be serving Breakfast After the Bell in all elementary schools starting in September.
“For a lot of kids, this is their best opportunity to have a great meal,” said School Committee member Jared Nicholson. “For all kids, having great nutrition is a great way to prepare kids to learn. It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach.”
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Program, which started this past school year and is part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, is aimed at ensuring no kids go hungry and reduces the stigma of low-income families who may have otherwise had to apply for free meals. All students can receive a free breakfast and lunch, regardless of their status.
Lynn was approved for the CEP program last summer by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Results a year after its implementation showed a 5 percent increase in students who ate at school districtwide from September to April, which was about 453 meals more per day, according to Kevin McHugh, school business administrator.
But Breakfast After the Bell would take that a step further in elementary schools. Breakfast would be served after the school day starts, which is aimed at increasing the number of kids who may have not been able to come to school early for the meal.
McHugh said the district averages 3,745 elementary students a day taking breakfast. He didn’t have elementary enrollment figures available for the current school year, but based on figures listed on the district’s 2017 report card on the DESE website, that would translate to about 48 percent of those students.
Along with giving kids more time to have breakfast, Nicholson said there’s also the social aspect of if everyone is eating breakfast at the same time and place, a kid is more likely to eat.
McHugh said each school would incorporate one of two approved models for the program: breakfast in the classroom where food is delivered to each class after school begins and students eat there, or “grab and go” where students pick up bagged breakfast from carts or specified areas and are permitted to eat in designated areas or in the classroom.
“It depends on the needs of the school,” McHugh said. “We want to work with each principal to make sure we’re on board with the best option for them.”
There had been a pilot of the program in past years, with some elementary schools in the district already offering breakfast after the bell in their classrooms.
At Washington S.T.E.M. Elementary School last year, McHugh said there was a bump in how many kids took breakfast, but not as much as there should have been. It’s hard to always be able to offer a hot breakfast, which is what the kids prefer, McHugh said.
Some teachers may feel that having students eat in the classroom may take away from the period, McHugh said. But if kids have a healthy breakfast to start the day, they’re more apt to not be hungry throughout the day and learn.
School Committee member Michael Satterwhite said the program ensures students “start off the day with food in their belly so their attention is strictly on the instruction and work before them.”
Donna Coppola, committee vice-chair, said she often hears from teachers about how many kids come to school without having breakfast. It could be a matter of not having enough time or food at home. Students may not have the time to take breakfast at school either, she said, because that would require them to come in early.
Coppola said she’s hoping Breakfast After the Bell becomes mandated for all of the district’s schools next year. A hearing on the proposed Breakfast After the Bell legislation was held on Monday before the state Senate and House Joint Committee on Education.
If legislation passes and is signed off on by the governor, the district would be mandated to extend the program to its middle and high schools as well. Under the bill, which is aimed at improving equity in high-poverty districts, any school where at least 60 percent of the students at the school are eligible for free or reduced meals, is required to offer breakfast after the start of the school day.
But McHugh said it would be logistically challenging to implement Breakfast After the Bell districtwide because of how many more students attend secondary schools. For instance, Lynn English and Classical have about 1,800 students each.
Enrollment would limit the program’s feasibility to being offered as a grab and go with multiple kiosks throughout the schools with no hot breakfast option, according to McHugh.