BY ANN CARROLL It began as a drum beat not too long after school started. My 5-year-old daughter wanted to eat breakfast at school. “When can I eat breakfast there?” “Can we get up early enough tomorrow so I can eat breakfast at school?” Anyone with a 5-year-old knows how being asked over and over again for something can wear you down.
So finally, we got our acts together one morning and brought her to school in time for breakfast. I realized as I watched her that it wasn’t the food that satisfied her. It was the kinship she was enjoying with the kids from her class and the fact that she was finally getting to see what went on in the cafeteria early in the morning.
I also noticed that she was probably one of the few kids there by choice. The common bond among the other students was that a large majority of them receive free or reduced lunch. This is their morning club.
My husband received free lunch when he was a kid, and he and his friends would take turns getting their free meals from the line, because you had to hand over a pink ticket that identified them as on assistance. Schools have made progress toward erasing the stigma of need since then.
This is good, because more children are in need. The number of children in North Carolina on free or reduced lunch is on the rise. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 56-percent of public school students receive the assistance. That’s up from 48-percent in 2007.
I’ve thought about this a lot in recent weeks, and I wondered if the students in the older grades are reluctant to go to breakfast. I noticed the cafeteria was filled mostly with younger students. Legislators in some other state have noticed, too.
Last year Colorado passed “Breakfast After the Bell” legislation that required more than 360 of the state’s schools to offer breakfast within the school day to all students. I would imagine that removes much of the stigma.
In Colorado, the federal government will reimburse schools for the cost of the program. It’s estimated that Breakfast After the Bell will bring more than $22 million dollars in additional revenue to the state.
That solution would take action by lawmakers, but in the meantime, what can we do as parents? Take your child to breakfast at school. Buying breakfast helps fund the cost of the program for the school.
And sharing the experience is one way to bridge the gap and erase the senseless stigma attached to need. We’re all in this together. No child should be ashamed of being a member of the breakfast club.