Schenectady city school officials aren’t certain yet, but their hunch that the sharp spike in attendance so far this school year is due to the free breakfast and lunch program being made available to all students seems reasonable enough.
They’re not certain yet, either, whether the dramatically improved attendance rates will improve classroom results as measured by test scores and graduation rates, but one usually follows the other.
It’s funny, assuming the experience of the first half of the school year holds up, how little it will have taken to accomplish what school administrators couldn’t, for many years, figure out how to do.
And it’s not like most of the students in the district weren’t able to get a free breakfast and lunch: Roughly 80 percent qualified under federal poverty guidelines. Unfortunately, many students (or their parents) felt stigmatized by accepting freebies that others didn’t qualify for (even though it wasn’t readily apparent who was paying and who wasn’t); they’d sooner go hungry.
Now that all students are being treated truly equally, the ones from low-income families no longer feel that way and are more willing to go to school to eat — and to stick around and learn.
Let’s hope that’s what’s been going on, and that it continues. Because the statistics are pretty clear: Attendance and academic achievement are closely linked.
While the feds are responsible for the free-for-all lunch program, it took a $300,000 grant from Walmart to de-stigmatize breakfast. If that money runs out, the district should endeavor to find some more.