NAUGATUCK — Before this school year, fifth-graders came to Cross Street Intermediate School and realized they could not buy breakfast, as they had at their elementary schools. That changed when the district expanded its breakfast program to include Cross Street, the last remaining school without it.
The expansion and a system-wide promotion of the breakfast program earned borough schools a $3,000 award from the CT No Kid Hungry campaign. Among school systems where at least 41 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced meals, the borough’s breakfast program had the second-highest growth between February 2012 and February 2013.
“There’s so many statistics on how children learn better and test better when they have a nutritious breakfast to start the day,” said Kate Murphy, food service director for borough schools. “They’re better behaved in class.”
When students eat breakfast, they are also less likely to visit the nurse’s office in the morning for stomach aches and headaches, Murphy said.
Among the school systems serving lower-income students, only Sprague had a higher rate of breakfast program growth.
In February 2012, an average of 545 students ate breakfast at school every day in the borough, said Dawn Crayco, deputy director of End Hunger CT. By February of this year, that average was 831 students daily, a 52 percent increase.
Breakfast was added at Cross Street after administrators noted how many students there qualified for free or reduced meals. As of February, 57 students were eligible for free meals and 34 were eligible for reduced meals, compared to 153 who pay full price, Murphy said.
“That’s also why it’s important to have breakfast, for all those kids that need to come in and have a meal,” she said.
Half of the borough’s award money will support the nutrition efforts of Sodexo, the company Murphy works for and the school board contracts with to run its food services. The other half will go to the school system for “general wellness activities,” possibly including physical education or classroom health lessons.
School breakfast varies daily and can include breakfast sandwiches; breakfast pizzas topped with eggs and turkey sausage; yogurt; whole grain muffins; and pancakes or French toast, among other options, Murphy said. Breakfast costs $1.75 at Naugatuck High School and $1.10 at all other schools, with the reduced price set at 30 cents.
To promote school breakfast, its menus were added to school lunch menus. Murphy has talked to parents at meetings and students in health classes about the importance of eating before school.
Students at Naugatuck High School, where the day begins at 7 a.m., can eat breakfast in the cafeteria if they have a free period before 11 a.m.
Students at City Hill Middle School and Maple Hill Elementary School can grab breakfast as they get off the bus and eat in their homerooms, Murphy said.
Some students don’t eat breakfast because of food insecurity in their families, while others just don’t have the time in the morning, she said.
“It’s like a second chance for them to have breakfast,” Murphy said.