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Local News

State bill highlights importance of eating breakfast to student learning

National School Breakfast Week is right around the corner, and Illinois has a lot to celebrate.

The passing of legislation SB 2393, also known as the “Breakfast After the Bell Bill,” will increase access to school breakfast for many hungry students across the state.

Did you know there are more than 817,000 Illinois students who depend on a free or reduced-price lunch? However, fewer than half of those students are getting a nourishing start to their day with school breakfast.

Mornings before school can be a chaotic time for many families. This, in addition to fluctuating transportation schedules, social pressures and low appetite first thing in the morning, can make sending children off to school with a good breakfast a big challenge.

“‘Breakfast after the bell’ can alleviate some of these morning pressures, while providing students with a healthy meal of whole grain, fruit or vegetable, and milk,” said University of Illinois Extension Educator Jessica Gadomski, a registered dietitian for SNAP-Education.

While schools in Illinois have been required to serve breakfast since 2009, this bill specifically addresses schools with the highest percentage of students living in food-insecure households, where at least 70 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

This action will feed as many as 175,000 additional students, and it also will increase federal funding provided to schools.

So why “breakfast after the bell?” Unfortunately, three out of four Illinois teachers see children come to school hungry at least once per month. In response to this, educators are spending approximately $37 per month on food for their students.  

“Hungry students have trouble concentrating. Research has identified many positive connections between breakfast and academic performance, better behavior in the classroom and reduced absenteeism. Its impact on learning and creating a healthy school environment is huge,” said Gadomski.

The bill gives schools flexibility in choosing the best breakfast model for them, including:

• Breakfast in the Classroom: Students eat breakfast in the classroom after the official start of the school day.

• Grab N Go: Students pick up packaged breakfasts from carts in high-traffic areas, and eat at a designated area on the school campus.

• Second Chance Breakfast: Students eat breakfast during a break in the morning, typically after the first period or midway between breakfast and lunch, in a designated area.

There is some apprehension about serving breakfast in the classroom, Gadomski said: “Some school staff are concerned it will take away from instructional time. While initially it may take some getting used to, teachers can use the time to take attendance, read classroom announcements or collect homework assignments. It is worth it to have a class with children who are fed, focused and ready to learn.”

To help schools with early adoption or preparation for “Breakfast after the bell” programs, which are required for the 2017-18 school year, Extension has partnered with Rise and Shine Illinois to provide technical assistance, training and promotion of breakfast at your school.

National School Breakfast Week, March 6-10, is a great opportunity to contact your school and start the conversation. Everyone can play a role in the success of the school breakfast program.

For more information on the ABCs of School Nutrition, visit extension.illinois.edu/abcsofschoolnutrition or email schoolnutrition@illinois.edu.

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