In many schools having breakfast after the bell rings may be one way to assure that all students have a healthy start to their day.

Breakfast After the Bell Rings

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Reasons why school kids go hungry in the morning range from not having breakfast available at home to being embarrassed about getting a free before-school meal.

“Breakfast After the Bell,” a new program backed by New Jersey state lawmakers and education officials, aims to eliminate a key problem with serving breakfast before the school day begins — few students are actually in school to eat the food.

The program,which school administrators are being urged to join, lets schools take 10 minutes at the start of the day to quickly serve and have students eat breakfast.

The increasingly popular initiative has contributed to surging participation in the school breakfast program.

The number of free and reduced-price breakfasts served in schools rose from 136,000 in October 2010 to 184,000 in April 2013. Since then, state officials say, the number of meals served has risen even more.

When all school breakfasts, including unsubsidized meals are totaled, 254,000 morning meals are currently being served statewide daily.

A bill passed yesterday by the Assembly, A-679], would require the state to keep track of the percentage of eligible students participating in the school breakfast program

for each district, as well as the form in which breakfasts are served, as part of an effort to encourage wider adoption of “Breakfast After the Bell.” The bill also requires the Department of Agriculture to “make every effort” to help districts implement the program.

“We’re happy that the Legislature is sending a strong message to school districts,” said Nancy Parello, spokeswoman for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, an organization that supports school breakfasts.

State officials noted the progress being made earlier this month during a hearing of the Assembly Women and Children Committee.

Breakfast After the Bell Rings

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But Agriculture Commissioner Douglas H. Fisher also noted that while 254,000 children are being served breakfast at school, a total of 649,000 children receive school lunches.

“We still have a ways to go, but at the same time we’re making extraordinary progress,” Fisher said.

The federal school lunch and breakfast programs are open to all schools, but districts usually must apply to participate. Districts with at least at5 percent of their students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and at least 20 percent eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts are required by the state to participate in each program. Federal subsidies of $1.58 for free breakfasts and $1.28 for reduced-price breakfasts are available, depending on the incomes of children’s families or whether the families receive assistance from various federal safety-net programs.

Fisher noted that while the state is encouraging districts to participate in the program, some districts see a stigma attached to participating.

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