Faculty and staff at Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School in Orange have noticed a growing trend among the students since the school year began in August. Tardiness has dramatically decreased, students are more focused in the morning, and the overall quality of academic work has improved. They are quick to attribute these positive changes to one specific program: Breakfast After the Bell.
The newly implemented program (also known as Breakfast In the Classroom) allows all students to eat breakfast in their classroom after the morning bell, regardless of their family income level. This ensures all students are fed and ready to learn. The program has been identified by a growing number of schools across the Commonwealth as a solution to help feed hungry children, and has shown significant impacts on school attendance, test scores and outcomes.
The Food Bank, in partnership with Eos Foundation, has been working to initiate Breakfast After the Bell in schools throughout western Massachusetts that are enrolled in the Community Eligibility Provision, or where at least 60% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Increasing school breakfast participation adds five more meals per week to tens of thousands of children in our region, and provides a sustainable method of reaching children from households of lower incomes.
Currently 1 in 7 children in Massachusetts live in families at risk of hunger because they’re not able to afford enough food. Statewide, 44% of students enrolled in public school qualify for free or reduced meals; but only half are eating breakfast.
Jessica Sullivan, a geometry teacher at Mahar High School, recently asked her classroom of sophomores if anyone would have eaten breakfast that morning if not for the Breakfast After the Bell school meal. “Not one student raised their hand,” she explained.
Sue Jillson, Mahar High School’s nurse, has seen significantly fewer student visits to her office since the breakfast program began this year. “I used to have many students visiting due to hunger-related complaints — like stomach aches and headaches,” she explained. “The only thing I can give them is saltine crackers. I would go through multiple boxes. But since September, I’ve only gone through a box and a half.”
On Friday, December 8, Mahar High School welcomed Senator Stan Rosenberg and Representative Susannah Whipps to the school to learn more about the Breakfast After the Bell program and the positive effects it’s had on their students. Along with representatives from The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, The Worcester Food Bank, and Project Bread, they spent time talking with teachers, staff and students during the breakfast meal.
“I was very happy to see Breakfast After the Bell in action,” said Rep. Whipps. “All of the students we visited enjoyed the program and said it made a difference in their day. Hearing from the school nurse that she has observed a decline in hunger-related issues certainly demonstrates both the need for, and success of, this program. It was great to see so many staff embrace the program. With their support and participation, I can see this program really taking off.”
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