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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Wednesday morning New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill ate breakfast with an excited third-grade class at Paul Robeson Community School in the city’s Second Ward.
His visit was prompted by the success and expansion of the city’s Breakfast After the Bell initiative that began in September 2013.
Breakfast initiatives have been attempted in city previously, but Breakfast After the Bell seems to be finally getting it right.
The program, which is already providing breakfast to children at several city elementary schools, will be in every New Brunswick elementary school and the middle school by the end of May.
In total, more than 5,000 children will be provided with a nutritional breakfast served shortly before 9 a.m. each school day.
City officials spoke with the class about the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and how it can positively affect their learning throughout the day.
The new program ensures that even students late to school will have a chance to eat. Paul Robeson Principal Kelly Mooring believes that the program is already a success.
“Breakfast used to be served at 8:15 so children who were late to school missed out; now every child has the opportunity to eat breakfast.”
Third grade teacher Ilisa Grodman agrees: “Parents are bringing their children to school earlier because of Breakfast After the Bell. Before, if children were running late in the morning, parents would bring them to school later in order to feed them at home. Now they make sure that are on time.”
Several students also expressed that they enjoy the later breakfasts and eating in the classroom with their classmates and teacher.
While speaking with the children, Mayor Cahill noted that last year only 31% of students at Paul Robeson were eating breakfast. Now, Cahill says the figure is closer to 91%.
Breakfast After the Bell is modeled after the successful breakfast program started in Newark 10 years ago.
John Santiago, Director of Dining Services for New Brunswick Public Schools, helped implement the program here in the Hub City.
Santiago met with the manufacturers of the breakfast packages and the totes that they are stored in, before spearheading the pilot program back in September. Paul Robeson and Livingston schools were the first to participate.
The program is funded by the National School Lunch Program. For every meal served to an eligible student, the state is reimbursed $1.89 by the federal government.
Not having to go through the grant process meant meant that the program could be started quickly.
The city had to hold off on introducing the program to the remaining schools because the tote bags used to transport the breakfasts are on backorder.
As more bags were produced, more schools were added to the program, which is also being launched statewide.
As for the types of foods served, the meals consist mostly of cereal and every now and then a bagel or muffin.
“Kids are more receptive to the cereals. It’s more important that more kids eat than necessarily get that super variety,” according to Santiago.
The breakfasts served adhere to National Breakfast Programs standards of nutrition and the kids seem to approve.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.