Saige, a fourth grader from Elm Street School in Gardner, notes that breakfast helps her stay healthy and on task.

Saige, a student at Elm Street School in Gardner, isn’t sugar-coating the question before legislators: “Do you want to tell a kid they can’t eat?” The fourth grader joined classmates from Elm Street School (and 11 other schools in eight districts across Worcester County) in providing written testimony in support of expanding “Breakfast After the Bell” programs to all high-poverty schools across the Commonwealth.

The Rise and Shine Coalition, a group led by the Food Bank Coalition of Massachusetts, which includes Worcester County Food Bank, spearheaded a recent effort to collect testimony from children whose schools have already adopted Breakfast After the Bell programs. Said Worcester County Food Bank’s Child Nutrition Coordinator, Kali Coughlan, “Students know best why these programs matter to them and to their classmates. They’re experiencing Breakfast After the Bell firsthand.”

Coughlan, who’s worked closely with a number of Worcester County schools that have adopted the program, said making school breakfast available to all students for free, in the classroom, works to decrease stigma and increase access to healthy food choices for children most in need. “I knew Breakfast After the Bell mattered, but reading this testimony from children really drives home the point of why this legislation is necessary. For kids facing food insecurity, pending legislation is the difference between hunger and a healthy start.”

Austin, a fourth grader from West Street School in Southbridge, summarizes Breakfast After the Bell in a sketch. “Don’t worry. There’s breakfast here.”

A bill introduced earlier this year and co-sponsored by State Senator Sal DiDomenico (S. 2441) and State Representative Aaron Vega (H. 327) would require schools with 60% or more of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals to implement a school breakfast program, such as the one at Elm Street, that operates after the start of the school day. Grants and federal reimbursements to high-poverty schools, up to $2.04 per breakfast served, are available to offset schools’ expenses.

In Gardner, where 61% of children are considered food-insecure, breakfast participation rates improved from 12% to over 70% only two months after the implementation of the classroom breakfast program – and other schools in the county have seen similar successes.

With a vote on breakfast legislation possible this spring, the Rise and Shine Coalition collected over 1,000 testimonials from students as young as four touching upon the benefits of starting the day with breakfast: improved concentration, mood, and classroom behavior. Coalition members packaged testimony in cereal boxes and delivered it to the State House earlier this month, making a case of support for Breakfast After the Bell.

To see more from Massachusetts kids on why breakfast matters to them, check out our Facebook album. Want to help advance breakfast legislation? Call your legislators today and tell them you support Breakfast After the Bell. 

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