By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A pilot program that would provide free breakfasts to all of Gloucester’s elementary school students enrolled in Beeman and Veterans next year has drawn both opposition and support as its implementation draws nearer.
While school officials and some parents insist that the so-called universal breakfast program would lead to a more conducive learning environment, at least one parent has questioned the necessity of the program and its potential to cut into learning time.
“In a six hour period, my son would be eating three times. And since I feed him breakfast at home every morning, he would actually be eating four times,” Lisa Fornero, a Gloucester parent and teacher in the Chelsea school district has said. “I don’t think eating four times by 12:30 is healthy for children.”
According to the school district’s plan, students at Beeman and Veterans Memorial schools would be eating breakfast at 8:30, along with their typical snack time of around 10:30, and then lunch at just past noon.
A reimbursement from the state would fully fund the breakfast program. The reimbursement is available to any school with 50 percent or more of its families qualifying for free or reduced price lunch. Beeman and Veterans both into that category.
Fornero made it clear that her issues with the program lie in the potential for overfeeding the children and for cutting into the state’s required 900 hours of instructional time per year. She urged the superintendent to find a way to feed those students who would not receive a breakfast at home, but preserve classroom instruction time.
“Gloucester is giving our students a good education, but as a collective group, we can work to ensure that all Gloucester students, regardless of socioeconomic status, receive a great education and, at the same time, do not go hungry.”
Superintendent Richard Safier said he needs more time to review the potential effect on the number of hours spent learning in the classroom, but said the program would benefit learning.
“I do not see the breakfast program as subtracting from time on learning. Students will be reading, or working on lessons, or doing work with our social/emotional character education program,” Safier said.
Longstanding research suggests that skipping breakfast can be detrimental to children learning. Newer research published in medical journals has revealed that participation in a breakfast program correlated with higher math grades, better attendance and punctuality.
“Nobody is intending to force-feed anyone,” Safier said. “And, if we do this and increase student concentration, as the research indicates, then we will have accomplished something.”
A negative stigma can sometimes prevent lower income students from eating the breakfast that schools provide before hours for students who qualify, Safier noted, saying this program would prevent any differentiating between children from lower income families.
Parents, teachers and administrators can work together and shape the pilot program to serve all the families, allowing families to opt their children out of the free breakfast and reshaping that classroom time, Safier said.
“It’s just a matter of working together and communicating with one another to make sure that those who need to have a breakfast do so, and those who don’t need one do not,” Safier said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.