Midtown Raleigh News

Millbrook High to offer breakfast program pilot

A North Carolina student chooses from fruit options offered in the cafeteria. Federal funding providesfree breakfast for public school students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Millbrook High School announced its intentions to help combat child hunger by joining the program.
A North Carolina student chooses from fruit options offered in the cafeteria. Federal funding providesfree breakfast for public school students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Millbrook High School announced its intentions to help combat child hunger by joining the program. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE ART

Millbrook High School is expected to join the rest of Wake County’s traditional public schools in offering students a breakfast program later this year.

County and state officials say the school intends to launch a pilot breakfast program beginning this spring.

The change comes at a time when many children’s advocates and child nutrition experts are seeking to expand breakfast programs at schools across the country.

“Our goal is to see every child eat breakfast,” said Lynn Harvey, section chief for child nutrition services at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Harvey said that while the breakfast programs typically have focused on lower-income children whose families may not have the means to provide breakfast, they’re not the only children who may be skipping a morning meal. Families with busy schedules or long commutes may be unable to find time for breakfast.

Harvey estimated that only a few dozen public schools across North Carolina do not offer a breakfast program. That means the primary goal is to increase participation with new twists on the traditional cafeteria line model.

Options include a “grab and go” where only handheld items are offered or breakfast in the classroom. Another idea is “universal breakfast” where breakfast is given to all students at no charge.

“We look at what’s best for each particular school and of course what’s best for the students at the school,” Harvey said.

Millbrook officials did not respond to requests for comment about how the pilot program could be structured.

Wake schools have used varying methods to increase participation, including universal breakfast in six schools, said Marilyn Moody, senior director of the school system’s Child Nutrition Services.

In October 2009, Wake served an average of 17,000 breakfasts daily. This year, it was 22,000.

“I feel like our principals see the need for it, they see the value in it, and they’re helping to increase the participation,” Moody said.

How it works

The federal school breakfast program is similar to the federal school lunch program.

In 2011, the school lunch program reached about 20 million low-income students, while the breakfast program reached about half that, according to the federal Agriculture department.

In both the lunch and breakfast programs, the federal government provides subsidies to help pay for meals. The subsidies are available regardless of a student’s family income, though they’re more generous for meals for students deemed eligible for “free and reduced” meals. Schools must follow federal nutrition guidelines for breakfast and lunch.

The programs are not without their critics, who question the federal costs of the program, the quality of food served and the potential for fraud.

North Carolina public schools are required to offer the lunch program, but principals decide about the breakfast program.

In Wake County, 33.7 percent of students applied and qualified for the free and reduced lunch program during the 2012-2013 school year, with the rates at individual schools ranging from 4.5 percent to 82.7 percent. The rate currently is at 35.7 percent.

At Millbrook, the participation rate is currently 31 percent.

Louis Peay, the parent of a Millbrook student, was alarmed when he realized the school did not serve breakfast and began making calls to elected officials and school system employees in recent weeks.

“How can you not feed children? They’re hungry,” he said.

The program’s benefits include higher test scores and attendance rates, according to a Deloitte report for the No Kid Hungry campaign. The national nonprofit Share Our Strength runs the campaign, and the organization’s partners in the effort include food companies.

Students who eat school breakfast score 17.5 percent higher on standardized math tests and attend 1.5 more days of school compared with students who don’t, the report said.

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