The Jersey City Public School District’s revamped school breakfast program will continue, despite concerns from some parents who say it is a poor substitute for the program it replaced.
Under changes implemented this school year, students now receive a morning meal at their desks during homeroom, which begins at 8:30 a.m. The students receive such breakfast items as muffins or bagels, with either juice or milk. The meals must be completed before the students take off for their first class of the day, which begins at 8:45 a.m.
Since students are required to be in school by 8:30, school breakfast advocates argue that the homeroom meal time ensures that most students will go to class having eaten something, rather than taking class on an empty stomach.
But the 8:30 a.m. meal replaced a different school breakfast structure that may have served fewer students but guaranteed that the students who were eating breakfast had a hot meal.
‘We have no intention of changing the breakfast program.’ – Maryann Dickar
“They could eat stuff like hot cereal or eggs, which I just feel is better for them than a muffin,” said Dionne Parker, the mother of three elementary school students in the Heights. “I don’t mind if they eat a bagel every once in a while, for variety. But I’d just feel more comfortable with them eating something hot, again, like eggs.”
Former Frank R. Conwell School PTA President Felicia Palmer has likened the meals offered now to “cake.”
“I feel like the food they’re getting now is either high in sugar, high in carbohydrates, and isn’t as healthy as the menu options they had before,” said Palmer.
She also lamented the loss of cereal choices under the new breakfast program.
The more extensive menu items cannot be offered under the new program since the students are now eating in classrooms, rather than the cafeteria.
Despite some negative feedback, however, the school district said most parents support the change.
“We have no intention of changing the breakfast program,” said Maryann Dickar, chief of staff to Schools Superintendent Marcia Lyles. “Much of the response we have gotten has been positive.”
The move to have breakfast served to students “by the bell” for their first class is actually part of a statewide initiative to ensure that more low-income students who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals under the federal School Breakfast Program get these meals. According to a report issued by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, about 18 percent of low-income students in the state were participating in the School Breakfast Program, even though about 77 percent of students in the state qualified for free and reduced-priced meals.
In response to this report, several school districts, including Newark, have implemented a “breakfast by the bell” program, which was supported locally by the education advocacy group Parents for Progress and the Jersey City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Last year, former Parents for Progress President Ellen Simon, who recently won a seat on the Jersey City School Board, wrote, “Because so many children in our district qualify for free breakfast, the district could roll out universal free breakfast. This program is paid for by federal money; it would bring $5.65 million in federal money and cost the district nothing.”
The “breakfast by the bell” concept is now supported by the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey School Boards Association, the NJ Principal, the and Supervisors Association and the NJ School Administrators Association.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.