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School Breakfast


What did your kids eat for breakfast today?

Nearly 62 percent of Portland Public Schools low-income students had a biscuit sandwich with chicken sausage Tuesday morning, courtesy of the district’s central kitchen.

Yet state advocates fighting to eliminate childhood hunger and poverty say PPS and other districts should be serving even more kids with healthy breakfasts, which include milk, 100-percent juice and fruit in addition to the entree.

In fact, a new campaign called “Let’s Do Breakfast, Oregon!” is an initiative to try to boost the number of low-

income kids eating breakfast.

“We’re asking teachers and school administrators to help reduce barriers to breakfast,” says Annie Kirschner, program director for the Portland nonprofit Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. “A lot of times, simply serving breakfast after the bell rather than before increases the number of kids eating.”

Her organization is sponsoring the campaign, along with the Oregon Dairy Council and the Oregon Department of Education.

PPS’ serving 62 percent of students ranks the district 27th in a survey of 60 school districts, according to the Breakfast Scorecard, a report issued last month by the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center.

The report describes progress on what they call their “ambitious but achievable goal,” to boost districts’ participation in school breakfast to 70 percent for every 100 eating school lunch.

As Kirschner mentioned, one way to do that is to serve breakfast after the morning bell rings — either by delivering food to the classroom, allowing students to continue eating in class for 15 minutes, or serving a “grab and go” bag students may take to class.

PPS has 25 schools participating, and hopes to encourage more, says Gitta Grether-Sweeney, PPS director of nutrition services. The other 59 schools still serve breakfast traditionally, in the cafeteria before the bell. Often students are rushed or not able to eat at all if their bus is late, Kirschner says.

Breakfast after the bell “is awesome; we love it,” Grether-Sweeney says. “Our mission is to feed kids. Any time there’s an opportunity, we take it on.”

The other way to increase school breakfast participation is to offer it free for all students; PPS has 35 schools doing that now, under the new federal Community Eligibility Program.

Teachers and administrators say ensuring more kids are fueled up in the morning tackles poverty, hunger and nutrition goals.

They say it helps kids focus and settle down, decreases tardiness and absenteeism, and helps students with standardized testing, particularly math.

“We want to raise awareness of how breakfast is really an educational tool,” Kirschner says.

Currently, breakfast after the bell is mostly in place at schools with 50 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced meals.

The “Let’s Do Breakfast, Oregon!” campaign challenges families and community members at all schools to find out how breakfast is served at their school.

There’s also a bill in the Oregon Legislature, House Bill 2846, that would explicitly allow schools to count up to 15 minutes of breakfast as “instructional time,” according to the strict definitions set by the state.

Statewide, Oregon’s school districts are serving breakfast to 52 percent of the neediest children.

The aim is to reach 70 percent. “If we were to reach that goal, 36,000 more kids in Oregon would be getting breakfast,” Kirschner says. “We can definitely do better.”

For more: oregonhunger.org.

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