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August 30, 2016
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For Immediate Release
Contact: Nancy Parello | (908) 399-6031

NJ high schools lag in serving breakfast to teens

As students across New Jersey head back to school next week, high schoolers will be less likely to begin their day with a healthy breakfast, according to an analysis released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign.

While classroom breakfast has swept elementary schools across New Jersey, most high schools have been slow to make this switch from serving breakfast in the cafeteria before school to offering it during the first few minutes of the school day.

Known as “breakfast after the bell,” this approach significantly increases student participation in the federal School Breakfast Program. And, because the program is federally-funded based on the number of meals served, this method also brings more federal dollars into districts to feed hungry kids.

Yet, according to an ACNJ analysis of data provided by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, just 12 percent of secondary schools were serving breakfast after the bell, compared to nearly one-third of elementary schools.

(The analysis focused on identifying secondary school participation, so schools that educate both elementary and secondary students were excluded from the study).

Participation Soars with Breakfast after the Bell
Serving breakfast before school means many students simply can’t access the meal. Time constraints, the need to care for younger siblings, transportation, high schools’ early start times and other issues often prevent teenagers from getting to school with enough time to eat breakfast before the first bell rings.

Serving breakfast after the bell does present unique challenges in high schools, food service directors say. Typically, the large size of the buildings makes delivering breakfast to all classrooms challenging. Supervision can be an issue, as well as clean-up. And lost instructional time is often cited as a barrier, despite the fact that the New Jersey Department of Education has said that breakfast can count toward instructional time.

But some districts like Atlantic City, Newark and Union City are proving that high schools can operate efficient breakfast programs that give their students the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn.

In Atlantic City, classroom breakfast was piloted in 2014 in certain wings of the 1,900-student high school and is now served throughout the school. Teresa Smith, general manager for Sodexo, which administers Atlantic City’s food service program, said the program takes just 10 minutes and has earned the support of teachers and other school staff.

“Since making the switch to breakfast after the bell, our high school participation has grown from about 20 percent to 85 percent,” Smith said. “We realize there is a need to feed high school students, to be sure they are eating nutritional meals. The breakfast is absolutely helping students.”

Newark has taken a combination of approaches to boost breakfast participation, including classroom breakfast, a hot meal before school and grab-n-go kiosks for teens who come to school later. Participation has tripled in the four high schools where alternative methods are now being used, according to Tonya Riggins, the district’s food service director.

“It’s excellent,” said Science Park High Principal Kathleen Tierney. “We’ve seen a big increase in the number of students eating breakfast. I’m seeing more students coming in early and it helps with attendance.”

The sprawling 2,700-student Union City High School, which spans four city blocks, is also using a variety of methods to serve up breakfast. Cafes and kiosks are stationed around the school, eliminating the challenge of delivering food to every classroom in such a large school.

Since the district began providing these options, participation has climbed to 70 percent of high school students, according to Susan Prusko, the district’s food service coordinator.

All these efforts add up to a better chance that these teens will succeed in school and become productive adults. In fact, recent studies show that teenagers who experience hunger have much higher odds of having health-related social problems, including poor educational performance, unstable housing, substance use and more mental health issues.  
“We want to make sure every child receives a nutritious meal,” Riggins noted. “That benefits everyone. It’s a win/win.”

Read the report.


Advocates for Children of New Jersey is the trusted, independent voice putting children’s needs first for more than 35 years.  Our work results in better laws and policies, more effective funding and stronger services for children and families.  And it means that more children are given the chance to grow up safe, healthy, and educated.  For more information, visit www.acnj.org.  Follow ACNJ on Twitter @acnjforkids and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/acnjforkids.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey

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