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Gov. Cooper announces new funding for school breakfast programs

Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock.

On Oct. 24, Gov. Roy Cooper announced he is directing $1.4 million in federal funding to expand school breakfast programs. Each school district can receive a maximum of $50,000 in grants.

The grants will help implement innovative programs to increase student involvement in school breakfast. The governor is partnering with North Carolina Alliance for Health and Carolina Hunger Initiative on the program, which uses money left over from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund. 

Andrew Harrell, the program and communications manager with the Carolina Health Initiative, said people in Cooper's office who knew about the school breakfast programs asked the Carolina Hunger Initiative for ideas on how to best utilize the funds to support school nutrition.

“This is something that we have worked on for a long time, Gov. Cooper has been really interested in for a long time, so it was just a good culmination of a lot of different efforts,” Morgan Wittman Gramann, the executive director of the North Carolina Alliance for Health, said.

Breakfast in the Classroom, one of the most effective school breakfast programs according to national campaign No Kid Hungry, allows students to eat breakfast while working on lessons with teachers.

Harrell said Glenn Elementary School in Durham — where Cooper announced the funding — has added 30 minutes of instructional time to the morning by moving breakfast into the classroom.

“We're hearing from principals and teachers and superintendents who are really passionate about [school breakfast programs] and who have seen the effects they've had on their classrooms and their students,” he said.

Wittman Gramann said districts and schools can choose where to focus the programs and how to structure them in a way that works best for their schedule, staff and students.

Districts with schools that are new to the federal Community Eligibility Provision program — which provides free meals to students in schools with high rates of low-income and at-risk students — will be given priority for the grants.

Harrell said equipment is an important use of the funding — including kiosks to serve meals from hallways and transportation to move meals out of the cafeteria to the kids, classrooms and hallways.

Wittman Gramann said students who qualify for free and reduced meals at school often don’t take advantage of it because they are worried about the stigma of doing so.

“Not only going up to the counter and realizing that there's no money on your account, and then the impact of that, but also this differentiation between the students who eat school meals and the students who bring meals from home,” she said.

She also said expanding school breakfast programs will eliminate the stigma because every student is eating the same thing together, which increases a sense of community and opportunity for students.

Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said school breakfast programs are a model for children for what they should be drinking and eating.

“The fact that they'll get some milk, the fact that they'll get a balanced meal that will be more real food than not, is really quite critical,” he said.

He also said an absence of breakfast leads to learning and behavioral difficulties in school-aged children. The first years of school set children's trajectory for learning, he said.

Popkin said school breakfast programs are an important addition for families with children — the provided meal can serve as "extra income” for many low-income North Carolina residents.

“We can all agree that no child should go hungry, and we all do better when all children have access to the nutritious meals that they need to learn and thrive,” Wittman Gramann said.

Editor's note: Andrew Harrell is a former staffer of The Daily Tar Heel.


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