April 2 — 10:26 am, 2009

Wide variation in breakfast participation

wheaties Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bree7

At Thurgood Marshall elementary school in Olney, a K-8 school with an enrollment of about 600, more than nine out of ten students eat breakfast in school every day. Compare that to Andrew Morrison elementary just a few blocks away, a school with similar demographics — a mostly African American and Latino population, 85 percent of which are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced price lunch — where only about 30 percent of the students eat breakfast at school.

These differences are outlined in a document from the state Department of Education that tracks participation in school breakfast, which is free and available to all students. (The state records how many meals are served during the month of October. Click on the document to see a school by school breakdown of breakfast and lunch participation.) Advocates who have worked with the District on child nutrition issues, while happy that the District has made free breakfast universal, are concerned that participation rates vary so widely from school to school. 

Morrison stands at about the citywide average, which is dragged down by low participation in many middle and high schools. There are exceptions to this trend, however. Pepper and Tilden middle schools, for instance, have participation rates of more than 80 percent. And a higher percentage of students eat breakfast at South Philly High, 30 percent, than at some of the city’s most impoverished elementary schools. At McMichael in Mantua, for instance, just 27 percent of children eat breakfast at school; at William Dick in North Philadelphia, it’s 26 percent. Then there are schools like Fairhill, M.Hall Stanton, Wister, and Willard that make it a priority.

Advocates pointed out with some consternation that principals seemed eager to get their students breakfast on the days of PSSA testing, but not so eager on other days. The District’s entire school nutrition program, in which most children are entitled to free breakfast and lunch, might be in jeopardy due to proposed Bush-driven changes in the federal Department of Agriculture to make students verify family incomes rather than assume they qualify if they attend certain schools. All this needs to be sorted out.

In the meantime, principals who think getting breakfast for the highest possible number of kids is too much of a bother need to eat their Wheaties and get their own brains in gear. 

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