The state Senate’s passed a package of bills aimed at providing meals for more than a half million students from low-income households. Advocates for Children of New Jersey found last April though 540,000 students were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, just 44 percent actually got breakfast in school. That number’s been dropping, but not in Paterson where programs are helping hungry kids in families still Chasing the Dream.
Kids in Paterson are able to get meals because of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Breakfast Program. More than 300,000 students in New Jersey received breakfast in the 2017-2018 school year. The state is 19th in the nation for feeding breakfast to eligible students. It’s up from 48th in 2011.
“There are students that actually sometimes ask for more. There are students that eat every piece and don’t leave any crumbs, so I know that this is something that they need,” said Tonia Cole, a Kindergarten teacher.
But the key was figuring out how to get families to participate in the program.
“Paterson, overall, is a district that is a low-income district. We have many different types of families here. We have large families, we have smaller families, we have single parent homes, we have grandparents who are assisting with raising young children also,” said Courtney Glover, principal of Paterson Public School 26.
For the Paterson School District, it stopped making Kindergarten through eighth grade students come in early to eat breakfast, and instead incorporated it into the beginning of the class. The program they use is called Breakfast After the Bell.
Cole uses the opportunity to use the food to teach her students about shapes.
Because of programs like Breakfast After the Bell, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture says the number of students having breakfast at school in Paterson has gone up from 5,700 students in the 2011-2012 school year to 17,600 students during the 2016-2017 school year.
“A lot of times, if a student falls asleep throughout the day, we have to send them to the nurse. Because they start off with a nice meal, which sets the tone, we don’t have to send them there because they’re able to stay awake, and their energy level is better. That’s why the breakfast program is great,” said Cole.
The Senate passed a bill Monday, which makes it a requirement to incorporate the Breakfast After the Bell program in all schools where 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price meals. An identical bill will be considered in the Assembly.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.