New Jersey may expand free breakfast program at schools

(Nick Ut/AP Photo, file)

(Nick Ut/AP Photo, file)

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill to expand participation in a program that provides breakfast to public school students in their classrooms.

The measure would require schools where 70 percent or more of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals to have a “breakfast-after-the-bell” program.

“Studies have shown if you do not have nutrition and a full stomach, you cannot learn,” said Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer. “This could be very well be the only meal they get for the day because so many of them go home and do not have the food that they need.”

Angela Andrews, a a parent and substitute teacher in Union City, said the breakfast program there is making a difference.

“I’m able to see the direct benefits of kids having breakfast in their classroom in the morning,” she said. “No fuss. No muss. It’s efficient. And the kids come to school without the fear that within a hour they’re going to be so hungry they can’t focus anymore.”

Before Bound Brook High School stated participating in the program, school nurse Sally Hoben said, students would come to her office saying they were tired and had stomach aches because they were hungry.

“Immediately the benefits we saw from the program were that students were more engaged. Students were more animated. We had an immediate decrease in our tardiness to school,” she said. “Kids wanted to come because they knew they would get something to eat.”

Participating schools are eligible for more federal aid. Advocates say the legislation has the potential to boost the statewide amount by $43 million.

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