Public schools are recognizing the connection between nutrition and learning, and Chicago Public Schools are starting to offer free breakfasts to jumpstart the day. However, the move is not without its share of critics and proponents.
When kids are hungry, they can't learn, according to many education experts today. To combat the problem, many school districts offer free or reduced-costs meals to kids who might not get three square meals a day at home. Most schools across the country offer free lunches to low-income students and a few offer breakfast and dinner options as well. Now, Chicago plans to expand their free breakfast program to all students in the Windy City, offering options kids can munch during the first few minutes of their school day.
Expanding on a Current Program
Last week, Chicago's school board voted to allow a sweeping new program that would provide free breakfast to the city's 410,000 students in public schools, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. The new state-run program would expand the current federally funded one that provides free breakfast to kids from low-income families. The current program, dubbed "Breakfast in the Classroom," is available to about 199 public schools in the district. The new plan hopes to expand the program to an additional 299 schools, most of which have at least 80 percent of their students qualifying for free or reduced price lunches.
Under the new program, students will be able to grab a bag of breakfast items before heading into their classrooms at the start of the day. Students will be given 10 minutes to eat their breakfasts before learning time begins. In the schools that currently use the program, students eat their fare while teachers prepare for the day ahead. It has become a routine that both teachers and students have adapted to, and it allows those who did not come to school with a full stomach a chance to fill up before the real learning time begins.
Those in Favor
There are many proponents of the program, including parents, teachers and students. According to an article at Chicagoist, studies have shown that students who skip breakfast tend to suffer from shorter attention spans and lag behind their classmates in terms of their studies. These students have also been shown to have chronic health issues or be overweight later in life.
Educators agree with the data. David Pino, McAuliffe Elementary School Principal, told ABC Local, "It makes for a better student to have food in their belly, as they say. A child who has had breakfast studies and learns better."
A teacher at the school, Lillian Arroyo, told ABC that the breakfasts have never interfered with lesson time in her classroom. Arroyo said, "During that time, what we usually do is take attendance, and actually we try to get ready for the day while you have the kids eating in the classroom, because once they know what their routine, they already know what to do every day."
School board president Mary Richardson-Lowry believes the new program will help students. She told the crowd at the school board meeting last week, "For the first time in our district's history, we have the opportunity to ensure that every child at least has breakfast." Her quote was reported in the Chicago Tribune.
Not everyone is happy about this new program, however. Parents came out in force at the school board meeting to voice their disapproval, and more than 1,100 signed a petition opposing the plan. Some of the schools including in the program have a much smaller percentage of students qualifying for the free lunch program in their ranks. Many parents at these schools believe that taking valuable lesson time away to eat breakfast hurts the students more than it helps them.
Sarah Putrim, a mother with three children at Blaine Elementary School, told the Tribune, "Instructional time is so important to us. And the federal and state standards that have been imposed on our school leave very little wiggle room for extra things."
Putrim may have a valid point. The Tribune reports that Chicago Public Schools has one of the shortest school days in the country already. Putrim calculates that by taking 10-15 additional minutes out of learning time for breakfast, a full 10 days of school will be lost by the end of the year. This deficit could be significant enough to put Chicago public school students even further behind. A blog at CPS Obsessed also voices concern over the waste and expense that could be generated by the new program.
Despite opposition, the new free breakfast program has been voted in by the Chicago public school board. More students will now receive fruit, cereal, low-fat milk and scrambled eggs before they begin their school days. Time will tell if this additional step really will put Chicago kids in a learning mode that will raise the performance of students across the board in this metropolitan area.
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