Boise schools are gaining ground in the war on hungry students. In a recent Food Research and Action Center study that looked at participation levels in the national School Breakfast Program, the Boise School District ranked first among 63 districts across the country. Idaho placed 16th overall.
“We’re pretty excited to be ranked top in the nation,” said Peggy Bodnar, Food and Nutrition Services supervisor for the Boise School District. “And we do it by having the strong support of our district.”
The FRAC study looked at self-reported data to determine what percentage of students eating free, reduced or paid lunches were also eating breakfast.
“What Boise is doing right is a real focus on multiple avenues for providing kids with healthy foods,” said Bodnar. “So we offer breakfast in the cafeteria, breakfast in the classroom, and even sites where all the kids eat breakfast at no cost—which helps take any stigma away from eating free or reduced meals.”
Another program offers secondary level students a mid-morning break—10 to 20 minutes between classes that essentially gives teenagers a second chance at breakfast. According to Bodnar, the program has met with real success.
But while Boise School District may be gaining national attention, the State Board of Education was quick to remind Boise Weekly that no other Idaho school districts participated in the voluntary study.
“I’ve been getting a lot of calls from the media asking where the other school districts in Idaho ranked,” said Colleen Fillmore. “But Boise was the only district to participate.”
Since the FRAC study looked at self-reported data from only a handful of the more than 13,800 school districts that exist nationwide, state ranking results remain difficult to quantify.
According to Fillmore, what is quantifiable is the overall, upward trend in statewide breakfast program participation. Last year, Idaho schools served students more than 12 million breakfasts—a three-fold increase since 2000.
Launched in 1966, the national School Breakfast Program attempts to reach low-income students at risk for food insecurity on the home front. Food insecurity, or food hardship, describes a family or individual experiencing limited access to nutritious food based on financial considerations.
According to FRAC, any respondent who answers "yes" to the following question qualifies as food insecure: "Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?" In a recent Gallop poll, 15 percent of Idahoans answered yes.
Despite the importance of the School Breakfast Program in terms of feeding hungry students, there continues to be a lack of conclusive evidence linking eating breakfast with academic success.
According to the USDA’s own Economic Research Service website, “although [previous] findings suggest that eating a school breakfast improves learning, studies that have estimated this relationship directly have failed to produce definitive results. No study has been able to conclude convincingly that eating a school breakfast leads to improvements in long-term or short-term cognition or academic achievement.”