Every day at 9 a.m., students wheel coolers of food into each classroom at Mary E. Baker School in Brockton.
For 8-year-old Jonalyce Hampton-Roderick, it’s a highlight of the day. She loves the food. What does she eat?
"A banana muffin, an apple, a cheese stick and apple juice," she said. "I feel like I have more energy to get through the rest of my day.”
The in-class meal is part of an initiative appropriately called Breakfast After the Bell. It was created to get students who are eligible for free lunch to also take advantage of free breakfast. At the Baker school, that includes more than 700 students.
Andrea Silbert with the Eos Foundation, an organization that works to address hunger and poverty issues, says having everyone eat together takes away the stigma that free breakfast is just for low income students. To make it happen, the Eos Foundation gives one-time $10,000 grants to school districts that participate in Breakfast After the Bell. Silbert says Brockton, New Bedford and Lowell got high marks for participation.
“This year we piloted a report card to compare districts and schools that have 60 percent or higher free and reduced [meal students], so these are schools with high poverty, and Brockton came in third in the state in terms of the percentage of children eating breakfast," Silbert said.
According to the The National School Lunch Program, children at poverty level — which is just over $20,000 a year for a family of four — are eligible for free meals. Students from families earning just over $30,000 a year for a family of four are eligible for reduced-price meals, and can’t be charged any more than 40 cents.
In Brockton, more than 80 percent of students qualify for free breakfast and lunch. But Baker School Principal Valerie Brower says not as many were taking advantage of breakfast.
“The children had a choice before," Brower said. "They could play outside for a few minutes or they could come and eat breakfast. They chose to play outside. That wasn’t always the best choice.”
Brower says those choices landed students in the nurse’s office so often that she would stock the nurse’s office with crackers and apples.
Four years after launching Breakfast After the Bell, Brockton Public Schools Superindent Kathleen Smith says it has made a difference; even grades have improved.
“They’re completely focused, less visits to the nurses, and what I am most impressed with is that many times there’s an opportunity for them all to have a snack a little later in the morning from their breakfast," Smith said.
It has made breakfast a classroom routine for students like Hampton-Roderick.
“If I am in a rush in the morning then I can come to school and eat breakfast," she said.