Astoria is joining the ranks of school districts offering free breakfast to all students in an effort to increase student participation and improve academic performance.
The school district has been offering free breakfast at Lewis and Clark and John Jacob Astor elementary schools. Michael Kelly, the district’s director of food services, said that while one-third of students at the elementary level took advantage of school breakfasts, only 16 percent of middle and high schoolers who were eligible for free or reduced-price meals did.
Across most school districts, educators see a lower number of older children accessing subsidized meals.
“By opening it up to everybody, we’re kind of hoping it gets through stigma,” Kelly said.
Other school districts, such as Warrenton-Hammond and Seaside, have offered free breakfast to all students for a number of years. On average, more than half of the families in the county have a low-enough income to qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
An estimated 22 million children nationally utilize free and reduced-price lunches, along with 12 million for breakfast and 4 million for summer meal programs.
Students who start their day with a healthy breakfast saw an average increase of 1.5 days in attendance and a 17.5 percent increase in standardized test performance, according to No Kid Hungry, a national campaign to end child hunger.
The hope is that as students socialize in the morning, they will draw in friends to get breakfast, Kelly said. His hope is to bring participation at the middle and high school levels in line with that of elementary schools.