• Paul Ruseau

After the Bell Breakfast

Beginning in the fall of 2019 Medford Public Schools began offering universal free breakfast at all of our schools. This is an important first step. There is more to do.

Offering something and having access to it are important distinctions. A simple example would be to offer something free to anyone that wants it - but you place it on a shelf 6 feet up in the air. No one can bring anything to receive that free thing - all they have to do is put your arm up and pick it up and take one. Everyone is offered this - great! Except of course, not everyone can reach it. So for anyone that can't reach that high, it is not f0r them - it cannot be accessed.

Offering free breakfast to all of our students is what we are doing now. However, they must arrive early to school to go into the cafeteria to eat it. This doesn't sound that difficult. Logic has it that if you are hungry, you will be there so you can eat. Logic fails here for several reasons.

1) Students, especially those in elementary grades, are terrible at prioritizing their bodily needs over other needs - like the need to play and socialize on the playground before school starts. Hungry students will often remain hungry so they can play - it is that simple.

2) There are many scenarios for which a student cannot get to school early. Parental drop off limitations, traffic snarls, late school buses.

Evidence within our own schools shows that when students eat breakfast in the classroom, after the first bell of the day, that many more will eat. The Columbus Elementary, which qualified for universal free breakfast years ago and implemented after the bell breakfast has participation rates in the 92-93% range. Almost all of the children are eating! We have another elementary school that also qualified for universal free breakfast, but did not use the after the bell model, and that school had participation rates in the 25% range.

The evidence is clear on how to make sure our students are fed and able to bring their A-Game to learning - and after the bell is the correct model for K-8.

For the high school grades other models of providing breakfast may make more sense - such as grab-n-go carts. As our students become more capable of managing competing physical priorities they are better able to say to themselves 'hey, I'm hungry' and not choose a social experience over their hunger.