- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - Ashley Rokusek ate mini blueberry muffins at her classroom desk on Friday.

“It’s kind of cool to eat in the classroom,” said Rokusek, a fifth-grader at Holy Ghost Elementary School.

This school year, all 83 Holy Ghost students have qualified for free breakfast, served in classrooms, and lunch during school.

“It’s awesome,” Joey Bisdorf, a fifth-grader, told the Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/1K54hpY ). “I don’t have to eat at home.”

Holy Ghost qualified for a federal community eligibility provision based on the percentage of students who receive free-and-reduced lunches through the National School Lunch Program.

“We had a high-enough percentage that there was an option that we could apply for the entire school to get free lunch,” said Principal Todd Wessels.

Approximately 57 percent of the students received free-and-reduced lunches the prior year.

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.

Students will be eligible for free meals at school for at least three years, and families will no longer have to complete lunch applications.

“The goal of the program is to reduce food insecurities,” said Marie Miller, director of nutrition services at Holy Family Catholic Schools.

Wessels said families are saving almost $60 per month if they have a student who would have eaten breakfast and lunch previously.

Through a formula, Holy Family determines how many meals are reimbursed at the free and paid rate. Miller said the school isn’t losing money.

“When we found out all of our students qualified for free breakfast, we tried to look at how we could get the most kids to eat as possible,” Wessels said.

The traditional way would have been before school. Only 12 students on average participated in the prior year’s paid breakfast.

Wessels opted to have students eat breakfast in classrooms. To keep it as least disruptive as possible, education is still a focus. For instance, older students read at breakfast.

“There’s been quite a bit of research about how having that midmorning breakfast in the classroom helps kids have a longer attention span in the morning,” Wessels said.

Rachel Schmitt, a fifth-grade teacher, said she has noticed that students seem to be a little more focused in the morning after eating breakfast.

“Breakfast really helps,” she said. “It gives the kids a chance to sit down and get ready for the day.”

Breakfast has also helped to teach responsibility. Fifth-graders carry warm and cold bags of breakfast each morning to all the classrooms.

“Some of the bags are heavy,” said Ellie Kirby, a fifth-grader.

Holy Ghost is the only local school that participates in the community eligibility provision. Mike Cyze, director of school and community relations for the Dubuque Community School District, said the district is exploring the program for possible future participation.

By participating in the program, Holy Ghost was able to push lunch from 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and noon to add more classroom time in the morning.

“The more uninterrupted classroom time we can have, the better,” Wessels said.

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com


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