Successful Students

Students eat breakfast in the classroom at Howard Roosa Elementary School. Photo: Staci Maiers

The Benefits of School Breakfast

In order for students to be successful, their fundamental needs must be met. A student cannot learn to their fullest potential while hungry or sick. NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign advocates for partnering with community organizations to provide “wrap around” services, such as health, nutrition, and social services, to students in priority schools. Lisa L. Sharma of the NEA Health Information Network shares the importance of a nutritional school breakfast and offers a guide to increasing school breakfast participation.

Did you know that the simple act of eating school breakfast can play a significant role in shaping students’ academic success?

The research is clear: eating breakfast at school helps children perform better. Studies of school breakfast programs have found that students who eat breakfast at school show improved academic performance – especially in vocabulary, math and standardized tests – have better attendance records, are less likely to be tardy and have fewer behavioral and psychological problems. What is more, children who regularly eat breakfast are better nourished and are less likely to be overweight or obese.

However, even with the numerous benefits of school breakfast, less than half of children eligible for free or reduced price meals are participating in the School Breakfast Program. Why is this? The most common reasons schools cited for low participation in a traditional cafeteria-based school breakfast are:

  • Lack of awareness about the program
  • Lack of time to eat breakfast due to bus or carpool schedules
  • Pressure to go directly to the classroom upon arrival to school
  • Social stigma that “only poor students” go to the cafeteria for breakfast

The good news is that there are proven methods that schools can use to overcome these barriers and increase participation in the School Breakfast Program. Some models include: breakfast in the classroom, grab n’ go, “second chance” breakfast, and breakfast vending, among others. Students and staff at Howard Roosa Elementary School in Evansville, Indiana found that breakfast in the classroom worked best for their school, and were able to sustain the program through a partnership with Evansville Teachers Association and the National Education Association’s Priority Schools Campaign.

For other schools seeking to change up their breakfast program, a new publication from NEA Health Information Network and Share Our Strength, Start School with Breakfast: A Guide to Increasing School Breakfast Participation may help. The Guide provides information on the benefits of school breakfast, new ways to increase school breakfast participation, useful tools for advocates and success stories from other districts. Download the guide by clicking here.

In addition, for more information about hunger and ways to increase participation in the school breakfast program visit the NEA Health Information Network website.

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