Free breakfasts

Chicago’s school board on [January 26th] adopted a sweeping new program to offer free breakfasts in the classrooms of Chicago Public Schools’ 410,000 students, expanding a federally funded initiative aimed at giving kids from low-income families a healthier start to their day.

In selling the program to the board, officials promoted both the nutritional and psychological benefits of a breakfast with classmates, crediting it with improving “intellectual, emotional, social and physical development while at school.”

“Breakfast in the classroom” is already offered in 199 district schools, representing nearly 21 million meals of cereal, milk, fruit and scrambled eggs.

Beginning next month, officials will roll out breakfasts to an additional 299 elementary schools, the majority of which have at least 80 percent of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. Proponents argue that providing breakfast for these students may prove to be as critical to a student’s learning as meals now offered in the afternoon.

“For the first time in our district’s history, we have the opportunity to ensure that every child at least has breakfast,” Board President Mary Richardson-Lowry told the hundreds who packed Wednesday’s public meeting.

But its approval wasn’t without controversy. In little more than 48 hours, more than 1,100 parents representing 21 CPS schools signed a petition opposing breakfast during class time, concerned that the 10 to 15 minutes the meals occupy at the beginning of the school day would disrupt learning.

“Instructional time is so important to us,” said Sarah Putrim, who has three children at Blaine Elementary School in Lakeview, where just 25 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals. “And the federal and state standards that have been imposed on our school leave very little wiggle room for extra things.”

Putrim calculated all those 15-minute breakfasts add up to 10 lost school days a year, a deficit that would put CPS students — who already have one of the shortest school days in the country — further behind their peers.

Sandra Hamilton, another Blaine parent who helped organize the signature drive, said she worries that the CPS breakfasts will be loaded with sugar and other unhealthy additives that compromise what some students get at home.

“We fully support breakfast in the classroom for schools that need it, and we think it’s marvelous there, but we think it is not right for our school”, Hamilton said.

Chicago Tribune January 26, 2011

CPS passes free breakfast program for all students
Move covers 410,000 kids, expands federal effort
By Joel Hood and Monica Eng, Tribune reporters