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Elementary school feeds all students free breakfast

September 29, 1998

Free school breakfastsBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




Four-year-old Dalton Cavender drank all of his apple juice and milk on Monday morning just as one of his schoolmates tried to snag another classmate's strawberry Nutri-Grain bar.

Brandon Hess, 4, hadn't started eating his fruit bar in Susan Berezuk's prekindergarten class at Winter Street Elementary School because he had eaten breakfast before going to school.

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Eating breakfast is a habit that education officials are trying to encourage. They link it to better academic performance and believe it may cut down on absences, tardiness, discipline problems and trips to the nurse.

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On Monday, Winter Street became one of six schools in Maryland to offer free breakfast to all of its students for the rest of the school year. Officials want to see if improved grades and attendance linked to breakfast in Baltimore City schools can hold up in rural and smaller urban areas.

The program, Maryland Meals for Achievement, kicked off Monday with a visit from Margaret Trader, a Washington County resident who is assistant state superintendent of schools. Trader talked to the students and read "Stone Soup" to one class.

The free breakfast is offered from 8:15 a.m. until 8:45 a.m. to the approximately 250 students who attend classes in the morning. School begins at 8:30 a.m., but the students eat during announcements so they don't miss any class time.

"I think it's a good idea," said Dale Hess, Brandon's dad. "I've always been taught that you can't study on an empty stomach."

The Hesses make sure Brandon gets his breakfast every morning. He is served a hot, full-course breakfast each morning at day care, said his mother, Melissa Hess.

Before the Maryland Meals for Achievement program began, about 65 students ate breakfast under the regular breakfast program before classes started, and many students ate breakfast at home, said Principal Peggy Carroll.

Offering them a free breakfast in the classroom rather than in the cafeteria removes the stigma that might prevent some children from low-income families from attending the regular breakfast program and provides meals to students who are running late, officials said.

Winter Street was selected to be in the study because of its number of students, high number of low-income students in the free and reduced meal program and because all the children walk to school, so they can't blame a bus for missing breakfast or being late, said Don Trumble, the Washington County Board of Education's director of food and nutrition services.

Cody Miller, 7, said he only missed breakfast at home once before going to school, but was sometimes late to class because he was finishing his breakfast at home.

Cody said he left home on Monday without finishing his Apple Jacks because he knew he was getting breakfast at school - Frosted Flakes.

Cody's teacher, Kelly Schlotterbeck, said she can tell when students haven't had breakfast because they're less energetic, more easily distracted, and might want to go to the nurse because their tummies hurts.

"After lunch they're much more into the class," Schlotterbeck said.

"Hungry people have difficulty doing almost everything and certainly, hungry students have trouble studying, even concentrating," Trumble said.

Studies conducted in Baltimore City and Minnesota have shown that offering a universally free breakfast to students helps them learn better, said J. Michael Murphy.

Murphy, a staff psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, is evaluating the Maryland Meals for Achievement program.

Murphy surveyed 50 families of students in Schlotterbeck's third-grade class and in Barbara Mowen's and Mary Ann Robertson's fourth-grade classes earlier this month, officials said.

Those families will be surveyed after the school year to see if the breakfast program made a difference, Murphy said.

Offering breakfast to every student every day will be a lot of work for teachers, but will benefit some of the children whose parents cannot afford breakfast, said Mary Ebersole, chairwoman of Winter Street's parent advisory committee.

Ebersole said her daughter, Emma, 6, and grandsons, Michael, 8, and Sam, 6, all prefer to eat breakfast at Winter Street with their friends.

The breakfast program at Winter Street is expected to cost the county $4,000 and the state $12,000, Trumble said.

Other participating schools are in Prince George's, Montgomery, Baltimore, Somerset and Queen Anne's counties, Murphy said.

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