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Darryl Murphy

Darryl Murphy / The Notebook

District says expanded breakfast program has led to a spike in attendance

“Grab and go” meals and alternatives to eating in the cafeteria boost participation.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

With the expansion of the School District’s breakfast program, fewer students are missing out on the most important meal of the day and schools are seeing double-digit jumps in attendance.

On Tuesday morning, Superintendent William Hite, City Councilwoman Helen Gym, and City Councilman Mark Squilla joined Francis Scott Key Elementary faculty and students to honor the improvement with a brief ceremony at the school.

“We still have more to do to make sure even more students have access to breakfast, but we’re making great progress,” Hite said.

Although every school in the District serves breakfast, 71 percent now offer an alternative form of the meal, depending on students’ needs. This includes “grab and go” carts located in the hallway, sometimes near the entrance, where students can pick up food on their way to class, as well as serving breakfast in class or multipurpose rooms.

This year, the District reports, 44 percent of students attending school are participating in the breakfast programs, compared to 41 percent last school year. The District says the expansion of its breakfast program has led to a spike in attendance, as 17 percent more students have met the attendance goal of arriving on time for school 95 percent of the time.

Key was one of 30 “target schools” where the District is working to improve its breakfast program. Twenty-seven of those schools saw program participation increase by at least 10 percent, and at Key, participation increased by 66 percent and attendance bumped up by more than 12 percent.

Noting that Key, which opened in 1889, is the oldest school in the District, principal Pauline Cheung said: “If we can make breakfast work here, we can make it work anywhere.”

With the help of staff and student breakfast ambassadors, who help set up and promote breakfast service daily, kindergarten and 1st-grade students eat breakfast in the cafeteria, while the older students eat in their classrooms.

Jenny Loo, captain of the breakfast ambassadors, was honored during the ceremony as an #AttendanceHero for receiving perfect attendance. The 6th-grade student said that breakfast makes her happier and helps with her grades.

Jenny, whose favorite breakfast item is the muffins that the school serves, also said she noticed an improvement in her peers. She said that “when they eat, they feel happier” and that last year they weren’t doing well. However, she said, this year they’re improving because of breakfast.