“Kids come to school and they walk down our hallways and they don’t say, ‘I’m hungry.’ They don’t say, ‘There wasn’t anything in the fridge at home.’ … Their stomach is empty and they think that’s normal,” said Matt Bristow-Smith, the 2019 North Carolina Principal of the Year. “The next thing you know, you change your system, and you make it possible for them to eat two or three meals at school and possibly an afterschool snack and you see them and they realize they’ve been seen.”
At No Kid Hungry North Carolina’s ninth annual NC Child Hunger Leaders Conference in Chapel Hill on Wednesday, Bristow-Smith discussed the power of school meals — and how simple it was for his school, Edgecombe Early College, to make sure more students were getting those meals.
For him, offering breakfast during the school day was a fairly simple process. He connected with the right people, made a call to his district’s child nutrition director, and changed the school’s master schedule to include second chance breakfast.
However, statewide, participation rates in school breakfast remain low. Roughly 661,000 North Carolina public school students who are qualified for free- and reduced-price meals ate school lunch during the 2018-19 school year but only 383,000 ate school breakfast according to data from the Food Research and Action Center. That leaves a “breakfast gap” of more than 250,000 students who are missing out on a potentially crucial low or no-cost meal.
This gap is the result of a variety of factors, including transportation barriers that make it difficult for students to arrive to school early, cafeteria logistics, and the stigma associated with school breakfast. To increase participation in the program, No Kid Hungry NC promotes innovative after-the-bell methods of serving school breakfast that move the meal out of the cafeteria and into the regular school day, such as breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go kiosks, and second chance breakfast. All of those models are eligible for reimbursements under the School Breakfast Program, a federally-funded United States Department of Agriculture initiative created in 1975.
But teachers, administrators, and district leaders may face barriers to implementing these innovative school breakfast models. During the conference, speakers busted school breakfast myths and discussed what it actually looks like to offer breakfast as part of the school day.