NORTH ADAMS — After being piloted in a select number of classrooms, free breakfast will now be served to every student at Brayton Elementary School.
District officials said this week that the initial launch of the program was successful enough that it will be expanded next week — just in time for National School Breakfast Week.
Food Services Director Corbett Nicholas told the School Committee this week that expanding breakfast service has been part of a national effort to increase participation from the student body. Schools in Pittsfield, Adams and Springfield already have piloted similar programs, he said.
Nationally, the average breakfast participation is 36 percent of enrollment, while lunch participation is closer to 80 percent.
"There's really been an effort over the past five or six years to increase that participation," Nicholas said, "especially as it's tied to free and reduced lunch rates."
About 72 percent of the student body at Brayton qualifies for a free or reduced lunch, but only 49 percent of the students were eating breakfast in the school's cafeteria.
"Where are those other kids — that are either at or below poverty — where are they eating, if they're eating at all?" Nicholas asked. "We're trying to bridge that gap."
In the seven classrooms that the program has been tested in for the last month, the participation rates skyrocketed from near 50 percent to about 90 percent.
Students have a handful of choices for breakfast, mostly prepackaged items like cereals, honey buns, and Pop-Tarts. Although they are name-brand items, Nicholas said they are formulated differently than what's found in a supermarket in order to meet nutrition standards.
The district also has a goal to roll out a hot breakfast once a week to the students.
Officials also argued that by eating breakfast in the classroom, students are more focused on eating and not in the center of a chaotic cafeteria. It also provides them more time to eat, according to Brayton Principal John Franzoni.
"It's just a nice way to start the day, rather than going in the cafeteria, where there's 100 [to] 150 kids," Franzoni said.
With the program already partially in place, Superintendent James Montepare said the commotion in the cafeteria has already drastically reduced.
"Not only are they having a healthy breakfast, but they're able to sit and socialize in small groups, and that's part of every button we can push," Montepare said.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376