"The children that come to school with breakfast are more prepared to learn," said Ann Ziobrowski, the district's cafeteria supervisor. Children need the sugar, carbohydrates and other nutrients of a good breakfast to boost their metabolism and feed their brains, she said.
"Glucose is the main food of the brain," Ziobrowski said.
However, an online survey by the district showed that 21 percent of the high school students do not eat breakfast, Ziobrowski said, something the district is trying to change with a greater variety of morning grub.
At the schools, they have a choice of the regular breakfast menu, which includes a selection of fruit juices, milk, cereals and some sort of breakfast sandwich or muffin, all for $1.10 in secondary schools and $1 in elementary schools.
Students at the high school also can choose from the a la carte line, with a greater variety of breakfast sandwiches, pastries, yogurts and other snacks, Burkholder said.
Ziobrowski said about 1,300 breakfasts are served in the district's 20 schools, along with 16 other sites that include Head Start and other early childhood programs. About a third of the district's 8,500 students, however, qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program, which includes breakfast. The reduced-price breakfast is 20 cents, she said.
A household of four with an annual income of $38,203 can qualify for the reduced-lunch program, Ziobrowski said. In her 14 years with the district, the percentage of children qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches has risen from 23 percent to about 34 percent, she said.
On the first day of the school year, Superintendent Joseph Padasak said he counted 25 or more students in the high school coming in with cups of coffee from Sheetz or Starbucks. Students now can get their java, cappuccino or hot chocolate from vending machines in the cafeteria or fresh-brewed, Burkholder said.
"The French vanilla is on point," student Swaine Hinton said between sips.
Burkholder said another hot beverage machine will be added to meet student demand.
"At this age, they have the ability to make that decision," Ziobrowski said of those high school students who choose to forego breakfast. It is more important to make sure elementary school students are getting the jump start to their day that the morning meal provides.
"It is just a matter of making breakfast a priority and, unfortunately, a lot of families don't make that a priority," Ziobrowski said.
To make breakfast more accessible to those children, the district last week began a two-week trial of a "Grab-and-Go" breakfast, Ziobrowski said. Even students who arrive later than others because of bus schedules or other reasons will be able to fuel up, she said.
Students arriving before 8:20 a.m. can get a "Grab-and-Go" breakfast to eat in the cafeteria, Ziobrowski said. Those arriving after that time will get a breakfast to take to their classrooms, she said.
Each "Grab-and-Go" meal has a fruit or fruit juice; a bread ranging from granola bars to breakfast sandwiches; a meat or meat alternative such as cheese, yogurt or peanut butter; and milk.
"We talked to some kids at Hamilton Heights (Elementary), and they liked the 'Grab-and-Go' better than the regular breakfast," Ziobrowski said.