Success in school starts with breakfast

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- In an effort to boost student performance in the state's largest school system, Wake County leaders are making sure more students get their day started right with a healthy, balanced, and free breakfast.

County commissioners expanded the Universal School Breakfast program this year making sure every elementary student at participating schools gets a free meal.

Matt Calabria, the commissioner who spearheaded the expansion visited East Garner Elementary School Wednesday morning, one of the 13 additional schools selected to participate. Only 12 schools participated the previous year.

"The kids were lined up out the door of the cafeteria to get food," he said.

The school system chose the 13 schools based on the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch and the school's current participation rate.

Right now across the state, Calabria said only about half of the students who qualify for that federal program, also eat breakfast even though they're entitled to the extra meal.

He hopes by offering free breakfast to every student, regardless of financial means, more children will take advantage.

"Perhaps most importantly, we're removing the stigma associated with getting school breakfast and school lunch," said Calabria. "Kids who eat breakfast have fewer behavioral problems, do better school, have better test scores, even have higher graduation rates."

County commissioners allocated $90,000 to pay for the extra free meals. It comes from their $1.1 billion budget approved in June that includes a property tax increase of 3.65 cents per $100 and the largest funding increase ever for the public school system.

Calabria said it's tax dollars, well spent, adding the program is largely reimbursed through the federal free and reduced lunch program.

"The bottom line is that dollar for dollar this is one of the best things that we can do to improve our outcome, improve outcomes for students."

The schools added to Wake County's Universal School Breakfast program in FY16 include:

Bugg Elementary
Carver Elementary
Dillard Elementary
East Garner Elementary
Forestville Elementary
Green Elementary
Knightdale Elementary
Lincoln Heights Elementary
Millbrook Elementary
Poe Elementary
River Bend Elementary
Smith Elementary
Zebulon Elementary

The schools participating in Wake County's Universal School Breakfast program since FY15 include:

Barwell Elementary
Brentwood Elementary
Creech Road Elementary
Fox Road Elementary
Hodge Road Elementary
Longview Elementary
Mt. Vernon Elementary
Phillips Elementary
River Oaks Elementary
Wakelon Elementary
Walnut Creek Elementary
Wilburn Elementary

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