Tri-Cities area schools say this change will improve kids’ grades, behavior and attendance

The importance of a healthy breakfast for kids

Healthy breakfasts are a must for kids and help keep them going strong all day. Here are a few tips on making it happen.
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Healthy breakfasts are a must for kids and help keep them going strong all day. Here are a few tips on making it happen.

Finley elementary and middle school students will have something extra in their classrooms this August — breakfast.

“From an educator’s side, it just makes sense,” Superintendent Lance Hahn said. “When you’re hungry, the last thing on your mind is something else.”

The schools are joining hundreds of others across the state and dozens in the Tri-Cities as part of a statewide move to bring breakfast into the classroom.

Schools in Pasco, Kennewick and Richland are already finding success bringing breakfast into class at some of their schools.

The move is spurred in part by a 2018 law that goes into effect this fall. The measure requires any school where 70 percent of the students get free or reduced-price lunches must provide breakfast in the classroom to elementary and middle school students.

The measure received near unanimous support from the state Senate and House and was met with high praise when it reached the governor’s desk.

“Improving children’s health is one of the most important things we can do as a state, and that includes good nutrition for children in need,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

A family of four can qualify for free or reduced lunches for their child if they make $47,638 a year or less, or if they’re already receiving help buying food. Foster children are also eligible.

Many of the students who would benefit from getting breakfast at school don’t get there early enough to eat, or miss the meal because they chose to spend time with friends.

More than three quarters of the students in Finley get help paying for meals, but only 35 percent of them get to school early enough to get breakfast, Hahn said.

School officials believe moving the meals into the classroom will bring the number of students receiving breakfast to nearly 65 percent.

Coming to schools across Mid-Columbia

Making sure students have breakfast leads to more success in the classroom, according to the Washington Breakfast coalition. The organization made up of the United Way of King County and No Kid Hungry is supporting the move to breakfast after the bell.

While the program raises concerns that it eats into the amount of time teachers have to teach, Hahn and the coalition said that isn’t true.

Richland meal
Richland and other schools will be providing breakfast to students in the classroom or to take back to the classroom. File Tri-City Herald

Breakfast in the classroom takes about 15 minutes, and some teachers report that it give them time during the day because students behave better and are less likely to visit the nurse or miss school, No Kid Hungry said.

The 15 minutes also pays off in the long term, according to the coalition. Students who eat breakfast at school will miss less class, do better in math and are more likely to graduate.

Kennewick schools, which started last year, reported similar results. They are providing food in the classroom at Amistad, Canyon View, Eastgate, Southgate, Edison, Fuerza, Hawthorne, Vista and Washington elementary schools.

At Westgate elementary, Highlands and Park middle schools and Kennewick High, students will be able to grab breakfast from the cafeteria and bring it back to the classroom.

State education leaders are expected to tour the district’s program this fall.

Richland is finding similar success. They began letting students eat in their classrooms at Jefferson Elementary three years ago, and started a second program at Marcus Whitman.

This year, Richland plans to expand it to other students.

Pasco has been letting students bring food back to the classroom for five years. About three quarters of the district’s students receive financial assistance for reduced-price or free meals.

Students in Finley’s River View High, Kennewick High, Pasco’s high schools and Richland’s River’s Edge High School will also get food.

The breakfasts that students are provided must follow U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for meals.

“All school breakfasts must include a whole grain, fruit, vegetable or 100 percent juice and milk,” No Kid Hungry wrote as part of a flier aimed at helping principals explain the program.

No Kid Hungry also says the programs don’t lead to overeating. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found breakfast in the classroom doesn’t lead to an unexpected spike in calorie intake.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.