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Free Breakfasts For All

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The state has supplemented federal funding with $167,000, including a one-year, $20,000 grant to study the effect the breakfast program has on student learning. Those involved with the program are already giving it high marks. "By making breakfast free for everyone, the poor eat as well as the kids who don't eat for other reasons,'' says Joleen Durken, the nutrition team leader for the Minnesota department of education. "We don't charge [students] for textbooks and bus rides, but we charge them for nutrition.''

At Andersen Elementary, some youngsters were apprehensive at first. "Students didn't believe they could eat for free,'' says Craig Anderson, the program coordinator at the school. They weren't the only ones hesitant about the program. Some teachers didn't see a need for free breakfasts for the older students at the school. "But all the teachers have noticed a big change,'' Anderson says. Students are calmer, and teachers of older students find that they can lecture, pass out assignments, or allow students time for socializing during breakfast.

Nurses in the program schools also report fewer complaints of stomachaches, headaches, and other hunger-related ailments. "Some of the kids used to get off the bus and head right to the nurse,'' says Sherre Walstad, principal of Oak Grove Elementary in Bloomington, one of the other participating schools. "But we have not had that.''

The team of researchers evaluating the cognitive and social effects of the program presented its preliminary findings to the state in January. A final report--due a year from now--will examine food-intake data and the overall effects of the breakfast program on children.

Marsha Baisch of the University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research in Educational Improvement, which is conducting the study, says the project seems to be succeeding. "The staff is better able to attend to the students, and there is no lag time,'' she explains. What's more, the students are more attentive, have more energy, and are ready to work after socializing at breakfast.

Though the project would be very expensive to implement statewide, proponents, such as Mary Begalle of the state food-services association, hope the pilot's success will help them gain support for expanding the effort. "The program has really exceeded our wildest dreams,'' she says.

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