Breakfast program helps disadvantaged students
Children in schools throughout Reynoldsburg no longer need to feel the pains of hunger before their academic day starts.
The district is offering free breakfasts at most of the elementary, middle, junior high and high school buildings.
Food Service Director Connie Fatseas said totes full of milk, juice and breakfast items are made available free of charge to all students in nine schools throughout the district, which is nearing a benchmark of more than half of its student population qualifying for free or reduced meals.
“We’re getting close to 51 percent disadvantaged children,” said Fatseas, who oversees a food service operation for 6,000 students. “But we jumped on board with the breakfast program when the number was in the low 40 percent, about six years ago.”
When Fatseas came to the district eight years ago, she said Taylor Road already had a breakfast program, but because it is considered to be located in a higher socioeconomic area, breakfast was not free.
“Right now, only about 40 kids buy breakfast at Taylor Road,” she said. “However, when the two new schools open in the fall, they will have a free breakfast program and I hope to bring Taylor Road into the program sometime after that.”
According to the Children’s Hunger Alliance, there are roughly half a million children in Ohio who do not know when their next meal is coming. One in four Ohio households with children reported there was a time in the last year when they didn’t have enough money to buy food.
More than 43 percent of Franklin County’s low-income eligible students participate in a school breakfast program.
Research indicates that students who eat breakfast, particularly a school breakfast, have fewer behavior problems, better attendance and perform better on school achievement tests – all measures of a school’s success on the state school report card.
Reynoldsburg elementary and middle students are served breakfast components in their classrooms, while junior high and high school students scan their identification cards and pick up breakfast items to eat in the cafeteria or homeroom.
The cost of providing breakfast to thousands of Reynoldsburg school children is a juggling act between government-provided commodities, United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) subsidies, and accurate tracking of participants by food service workers throughout the district.
“Normally, we’re paid reimbursements by the USDA through the Ohio Department of Education,” Fatseas said. “For a free breakfast, we get back $1.48, for reduced, we get paid $1.18, and for a full pay we only get reimbursed 26 cents.”
With combinations and components, she says she tries to keep the overall average cost at 70 cents per breakfast.
“Although sometimes it’s a struggle, the subsidies let me keep the costs down and the reimbursement rate allows us to pay for breakfast for all of the kids,” Fatseas said. “This way, there’s no stigma for anyone, breakfast serves as a little social time, and everyone starts on a level playing field. The children begin their day with something in their tummy and we’ve found out they’re more focused and on task.”
While Fatseas said the benefits of a free breakfast for nearly every student are evident, when she first rolled out the program, there were concerns including fears that the children who ate breakfast would not want to eat lunch.
“That’s not been the case,” she said. “You need nourishment throughout the day and since we started the program, our lunch counts have held and gone up in some instances. And we work really hard on providing a variety of lunch options. We work with suppliers and regularly ask kids what’s their favorite item.”