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Some students to get breakfast in classroom

July 29, 2003|by JENNIFER SMITS

jennifers@herald-mail.com

Some Washington County students will be able to start their day this year with a free breakfast delivered right to their classrooms.

The Maryland Meals for Achievement program provides free breakfasts for seven schools in Washington County, said Gary Dodds, supervisor of food and nutrition for Washington County Public Schools.

Dodds said the state-funded program was started in 1998 and Washington County was one of the first school systems to participate.

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For a school to be able to participate, Dodds said 40 percent of its students must be eligible to receive free or reduced meals. Of the eligible schools, the state decides which will participate, based on how much funding there is, Dodds said.

School principals have to agree to the program, which is not a problem in Washington County because all of the participating schools' principals have reapplied for the program each year, Dodds said.

At participating schools, all students in all classes are offered a cold breakfast when they arrive at school, Dodds said. He said the meal usually consists of cereal, fruit and milk, and another item like a muffin or yogurt to add variety.

Individual students can choose whether they want to participate in the program, Dodds said.

"Some students prefer to eat at home," he said.

Dodds estimated that about 75 percent of students at participating Washington County schools choose to eat breakfast in the classroom.

He said that breakfast is important for students because studies of school districts with similar programs have shown that eating breakfast increased test scores while visits to the nurse, tardiness and disciplinary problems decreased.

He said that in Washington County, schools that serve breakfast in the cafeteria tend to see disciplinary problems as the students move between the cafeteria and the classroom.

He said there is a low participation rate in cafeteria breakfast programs because children typically have only 10 to 15 minutes to eat and they like to eat at a more "relaxing pace."

Students who eat breakfast are better able to concentrate during the late morning hours before lunch because they are not distracted by hunger, Dodds said.

The program also gives students a nutritional boost because people who eat breakfast snack less and are less likely to eat foods that are high in fat, he said.

Although not all eligible Washington County schools have been chosen to participate yet, Dodds said he hopes more will be able to do so in the future.

"I think it's a good thing," he said.

The seven schools included in the program from Washington County are Bester Elementary, Cascade Elementary, Hancock Elementary, Lincolnshire Elementary, Marshall Street School, Pangborn Elementary and Winter Street Elementary.

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