It’s good when New Mexico rates first in a national list of positives: Last week, The Food Research and Action Center’s School Breakfast Scorecard revealed that in school year 2011-12, New Mexico served free and reduced-price breakfast to about 70 out of every 100 low-income children, who also receive lunch under our federally run and mandated National School Lunch Program. New Mexico tops that Scorecard list.
Now, you might argue, that’s because the number of children who are considered to be impoverished based on federal guidelines has grown. But Jennifer Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, an Albuquerque nonprofit dedicated to ending poverty, thinks it’s a sign that we’re feeding more of the kids we should be feeding. This is because of the federally mandated Breakfast After The Bell law, which Appleseed (among other supporters) pushed for and Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law into 2011. It ensures kids can still get a bite to eat after the first school bell rings during instructional time.
“It means more kids are eating breakfast at a school, and that’s important for both kids’ academic and health outcomes,” she said. This effort, she said, “allows kids to get a balanced meal in the morning.”
Ramo cited a 2011 Iowa State University study that analyzed data for about 2,700 students taken from National and Nutrition Examination surveys. The data suggest that the efforts of the National School Lunch Program reduce food-insecurity levels and obesity rates among students. “This is important,” she said, “because we know that when kids eat at school — especially breakfast — that grades go up and absenteeism and behavioral problems go down. Kids do better in school when they are working on a full stomach.”
Nationally, more than 50 out of 100 low-income students eligible for school breakfast take part in the program, and more than 91 percent of schools that take part in the national lunch program now utilize the national breakfast program, the Breakfast Scorecard report notes.
In Santa Fe, all but one public school sites offer breakfast to about 4,200 of our district students. Close to 8,400 of our roughly 13,000 students eat a school lunch. I always like to emphasize that adult visitors can pay $3 for one of these lunches, too — it’s a good opportunity to hang out with the kids and hear their thoughts on many things related to school. They always seem to want to talk to me during lunch — must be that black cowboy hat I wear.
Ramo said she’d like to see New Mexico school districts increase access to after-school meals, eliminate reduced-price meals in favor of entirely free meals (the feds can subsidize this move) and expand elementary school Breakfast After The Bell offerings to middle and high schools.
Incidentally, late last year Santa Fe Public Schools began offering the federal At Risk Supper Program to students engaged in after-school activities at both De Vargas and Ortiz middle schools. That program will also start at Nava, Ramirez Thomas, and César Chávez elementary schools within a month or so.
Google “FRAC School Breakfast Scorecard 2011/2012” to access the full report.
African American Read-A-Thon
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and as a result, public schools and most educational facilities are closed for the day. It seems an appropriate day to promote the African American Read-A-Thon program, running from Feb. 11 to Feb. 22 in the Santa Fe Public Schools. February is African American History Month, also known as Black History Month. The program involves members of the Santa Fe chapter of the NAACP reading from the fiction or nonfiction works of African American authors for a half-hour. The readers supply the reading material and coordinate time and activities around it with classroom teachers. The event’s coordinator is Brenda Lang-Knapp, and you can reach her at email@example.com for more information.