Every student in the Schenectady City School District will be served a healthy breakfast daily during the 2013-14 school year thanks to a $300,000 grant through the American Association of School Administrators/Walmart Foundation School Breakfast Initiative.
Schenectady is one of only two districts in New York state and one of seven nationwide to receive the funding, which is provided by the Walmart Foundation and distributed by the AASA. The money will cover startup costs for serving a classroom-based breakfast weekdays to the district’s 9,700 students.
Once those costs are covered, the program has the potential to continue year after year without additional funding because the cost of the breakfast food is reimbursed through the federal government.
“We’re really excited because we know we’ve got a number of kids that do go hungry on a daily basis, and this is really going to help those kids and their families tremendously,” said district Superintendent Laurence Spring.
According to the American Community Survey, Schenectady has the 13th highest childhood poverty rate in the country. The high level of food insecurity felt by families in the district creates anxiety and depression in students, Spring said.
“This [Breakfast in the Classroom] program allows for a sense of stability and security. It alleviates some financial pressures on the family, and in addition to that, the very physical nature of starting your day off with a healthy breakfast puts kids in a better physical spot to be able to learn,” he said.
Representatives of the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, the Council of School Superintendents and Sean Landeta, former punter for the New York Giants, were at Zoller Elementary School on Tuesday morning to congratulate the district on receiving the grant. Landeta was there on behalf of the National Dairy Council’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which encourages schools to adopt programs that will increase access to healthy foods and physical activity among students as a strategy for tackling growing obesity rates among youth.
Spring, school principals and other administrators raised glasses filled with milk to toast the kickoff of the Breakfast in the Classroom program, which will be implemented in the fall.
During Tuesday’s event, Food Service Director Scott Stowell led administrators to a second-grade classroom, where Landeta talked to students about the importance of eating breakfast, while a meal including a muffin, cheese stick, fruit and milk was delivered to each student’s desk.
Having entire classes eat breakfast together offers the opportunity to create new structured activities and more student involvement and can help children learn some pro-social norms, Spring said.
The American Dairy Association introduces high-need school districts to programs like Breakfast in the Classroom to help them get more students to participate in school meal programs.
“By taking the breakfast out of the cafeteria, which only maybe 20 percent of students participate in because of scheduling issues — they can’t get there early enough — it increases the participation in school breakfast programs up to 90 percent,” said Brenda Beltram, public relations specialist for the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, which worked with the school district to complete the grant application.
Studies show kids who eat a healthy breakfast do better in school.
“There’s a huge connection between nutrition and learning and the ability to pay attention in class,” Beltram said.