Breakfast in the Classroom aims to get meals to more students

Kansas is among seven states that soon will be eligible to participate in Breakfast in the Classroom, an initiative aimed at providing free morning meals to more students.

About $5 million in grant funding – a donation from the Walmart Foundation – will help some high-poverty schools move school breakfasts out of cafeterias and into classrooms, where students can eat while teachers take roll, make morning announcements and gear up for the day.

The hope: If students aren’t required to get to school early for breakfast, more of them will eat.

Research has shown that kids who eat breakfast do better in school, said Princess Moss, secretary-treasurer of the National Education Association, one of several partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, which launched in 2010.

“They’re more alert, they behave better, and they even perform better on standardized tests than children who skip breakfast,” she said.

Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom plan to hold a summit in January, during which school officials can learn more about how to apply for grant funding. Districts will be selected based on the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, average daily participation in the school breakfast program, and district- and school-level support.

Wichita, the state’s largest school district, serves breakfast through the federally funded school lunch program, but so far only in cafeterias. About three-fourths of Wichita’s 51,000-plus students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for the district, said officials aren’t sure yet whether they will participate.

“We will have to do more research before making a decision,” she said in an e-mail.

Kansas is one of seven states selected this week to participate. The others are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Fifteen districts across the United States currently participate in Breakfast in the Classroom.

Earlier this year, Wichita opted not to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that would offer free meals to every student regardless of family income at certain high-poverty schools.

Among their reasons were concerns about the logistics of breakfast – how to run hundreds more students from buses, through cafeteria lines and back to classrooms before the opening bell.

“We know that’s one of the barriers that schools faced,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, CEO of Kansas Action for Children, which encouraged eligible districts to join the Community Eligibility program.

“In part the hope is that by incentivizing participation with some grant funding that can cover start-up costs, we’ll encourage more schools in Kansas to take advantage of the breakfast-in-the-classroom opportunity.”

More than 30 elementary schools in the Kansas City, Kan., school district serve breakfast in classrooms now, said Mark Farr, president of the Kansas National Education Association.

Children grab nutritious foods such as breakfast wraps, yogurt or fruit from a cart in the hallway or classroom. Then they eat breakfast together while the teacher takes attendance, collects homework or teaches a short lesson.

“Ten or 15 minutes – it shouldn’t take any more time than that,” Moss said. “It is not meant to interrupt the day at all.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.