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Breakfast at school

Gov. Pat Quinn visited a suburban school Friday to emphasize the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and to participate in the school’s “Breakfast in the Classroom” program as part of the 2012-13 Illinois School Breakfast Challenge.

“No child should begin their school day with an empty stomach,” Quinn said. “The Illinois School Breakfast Challenge will help children across the state have a nutritious start to their day, so they are ready to learn, grow and play.”

Illinois’ School Breakfast Program is a federal entitlement program that provides states with cash assistance for non-profit breakfast programs in schools and residential child care institutions. The program is optional unless at least 40 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

That regulation required several Bureau County schools to add a breakfast program to the menu for the 2012-13 school year.

In Cherry, Superintendent Jim Boyle has already called the program a success.

When the program started in August, seven to nine students ate breakfast each week. Now the current daily count is 29 to 32 students, more than half of the entire student body.

“We’re serving more students than are eligible for free or reduced,” Boyle said. “Parents are taking advantage of the program.”

Cherry’s students eat breakfast in the gymnasium, and the menu varies widely from day to day. Boyle said they also offer milk, and fruit or juice, but the other alternatives range from toast with peanut butter and jelly, cereal, breakfast sausages with French toast sticks, or, the most popular, toast with Nutella.

“The kids love that,” Boyle said.

Boyle said Cherry’s low income percentage dropped this year so the school won’t be required to serve breakfast next year, but he said they will probably continue the program.

“I’ve done an informal survey of the teachers, and they say there is more attentiveness and better time on task,” he said.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be a hot meal and can be served in the classroom or as a grab ‘n go breakfast, an option chosen in the Ohio school districts.

Superintendent Sharon Sweger said her districts receive grab ‘n go breakfasts from the Princeton Elementary School District, which also provides Ohio’s hot lunch program. Students “grab” a breakfast in the auditorium and eat it before school starts. “Grab ‘n go” breakfasts include such items as muffins, cereal bars and breakfast pastries.

Sweger said 175 meals were served in August with an average of five high school and 15 grade school students eating each day.

“It seems to be going real well,” Sweger said.

The Spring Valley Elementary School District has offered breakfast since 1996.

Superintendent Jim Hermes said about 210 students eat every day, but that number varies greatly.

“When the weather’s cold, we get a lot more kids eating,” he said.

Hermes said eating a good breakfast is best for the students.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” he said. “We want those who don’t have the opportunity to eat at home to come in and get a good start to the day.”

Hermes said he wasn’t aware of Quinn’s School Breakfast Challenge, which offers cash prizes up to $5,000 for schools with the largest percentage increases in average daily breakfast participation rates for August-December 2012 compared to January-May 2012.

Hermes said he does have concerns with funding, as not many students pay for the breakfasts, which are prepared by the staff and served in the gymnasiums of both Kennedy and Lincoln schools.

The Spring Valley District would have a lot of room to increase its percentages, as currently only 24 percent of the students who are eligible for free or reduced meals participate. Statewide the percentage is just under 40 percent.

However, Hermes said many students whose parents could afford to feed them a good breakfast at home don’t eat.

“They’ll say, ‘Oh, I had a soda on my way to school,’” he said.

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