High school adds free breakfast

FAIRMONT – The free breakfast program initiated at Fairmont Elementary School last year will expand to the junior/senior high school this fall.

While younger students get juice or milk and crackers or a granola bar, the meal for older students will be cereal or a hot breakfast, such as French toast sticks, or a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit.

“We already serve breakfast at the high school, but kids had to pay for it,” said Joe Brown, Fairmont superintendent. “It’s always been available, but now it’s going to be free.”

The National School Lunch Program, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reimburses participating schools for the cost of the morning meal. Students who receive free lunches under the program’s income guidelines constitute 43 percent of the elementary enrollment and 23 percent at the high school level. An additional 9 percent and 7 percent, respectively, qualify for reduced-cost meals.

The school will receive a breakfast reimbursement of $1.58 per free-lunch student, $1.28 per reduced-lunch student and 28 cents per full-pay student. The estimated cost of the breakfast is $1.10 per high school student, so the full-pay students’ meals will be subsidized by those students qualifying for the free or reduced costs.

“We’re not doing this to be a money-maker,” Brown said. “In an ideal world, every child would have breakfast prior to going to the first hour of class.”

That frequently is not the case. Time constraints, finances or apathy all play a role in students, as well as adults, not eating the most important meal of the day.

Brown spoke to the school nurse and learned that one of the predicted benefits of the elementary breakfast program has become a reality.

“We’ve had no instances of somebody coming to the school office with a tummy ache because they didn’t have breakfast,” he said.

This was an ongoing problem in years prior to the free elementary breakfast.

“This is all research-based,” Brown said. “If a child eats breakfast, they do better in school. If they do better in school, they do better in life.

“We always seem to have money in this country once you fail. This is the most proactive thing we can do.”

Brown said buses will arrive at the high school about 30 minutes prior to the first bell and about 20 minutes before the first bell at the elementary school. This time cushion allows students to get extra help with studies, go to the library, get settled in for the day or eat breakfast.

Younger students will continue to eat breakfast in their classrooms, but junior/senior high students will eat in the school cafeteria.

The district again has contracted with Chartwells to provide meals for students and staff. Brown said Chartwells estimates about 20 percent, or 160, of older students will take advantage of the free breakfast, but he predicts that number will be higher.

During the 2013-14 school year, an average of 52 out of more than 800 junior/senior high school students, about 6.6 percent, ate breakfast at the school.