This is a guest blog post by Wendy Y. Robinson, Ed.D., superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Each day, thousands of elementary and middle school students in Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) are provided a nutritious breakfast — something that many students went without before FWCS adopted community eligibility two years ago. Whether students skipped breakfast because of a fast-paced, hectic lifestyle, or because of a lack of food in their home, they can now start their day with a healthy school breakfast.
Community eligibility allows districts, such as FWCS, with a high number of students from low-income families to provide breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students. Once implemented, the benefits were immediate.
Students are no longer stigmatized for eating free school breakfast, leaving them hungry until lunchtime. While it may be more important for students from low-income families to be able to access a healthy, free breakfast at school, we also know that this option benefits all students, whose jam-packed schedules and long commutes may prevent them from having enough time to eat breakfast before leaving home.
When FWCS adopted community eligibility, we quickly realized it was not enough to offer free breakfast; we also needed to make it easy for students to access. Shortly after we started providing breakfast to all students at no charge, we piloted a program where students could get “grab and go” meals. The pilot was a success, and now students in all our elementary and middle schools can pick up healthy breakfast bars or muffins on their way to class without having to go into the cafeteria, something middle school students in particular are loath to do because it interrupts precious social time.
With just a few simple changes, we increased dramatically the percentage of students eating school breakfast to 73 percent at the elementary level and 65 percent at the middle school level. Previously, fewer than 25 percent of students at each grade level participated in school breakfast. We are now in the top 20 school districts in the nation fighting food insecurity through school breakfast participation.
Community eligibility has made all the difference for children who used to start the day hungry, unable to focus and often not feeling well because they had not eaten anything for hours. While many of us may long for the days when children ate a nutritious breakfast before coming to school, those are not the times we live in now. In today’s world, providing two meals a day at school gives parents and children two less things to worry about.