By Karl Terry: PNT managing editor
A program that provides free breakfast in the classroom for grades K-5 is two years old in Portales and popular with students, teachers and administrators.
Participation statewide in the program has grown statewide to the point where New Mexico now tops the list of states in a report on school breakfast for 2007, released by the USDA’s Food Research and Action Center. New Mexico was the first state to exceed the ration of 60 children eating breakfast for every 100 lunches served. That rate grew by 3.2 percent over the previous year.
Locally, Shirley Chatterton, food service director for Portales Schools, says her staff averaged serving 1,577 breakfasts in November while serving 1,954 lunches during the same period. That puts Portales schools over 80 percent on the ratio.
Prior to the breakfast in the classroom program, Chatterton said the number of breakfasts being served in the lunchrooms were approximately half that.
“We get lots of positive feedback,” Chatterton said. “When we first implemented (the program) it just seemed like things were a lot calmer in the classroom.”
Diane Maez, who teaches first grade at Steiner Elementary, likes the program and says all 19 of her students eat breakfast at the school and like the program.
“As a teacher, I like it because every child gets to eat,” Maez said. “Before, they had a choice to eat breakfast or go play outside and a lot of them skipped the breakfast.”
Maez figures with more working parents these days, sometimes children either miss breakfast or don’t eat much, which leaves them hungry before lunch and lacking concentration.
Superintendent of Schools Randy Fowler says Chatterton’s staff has done a good job of instituting the program with the same number of staff working longer hours.
“I do think it’s been a positive for the district,” Superintendent Randy Fowler said. “We’ve had some concerns over the menu but we’re following state guidelines. You always have to be looking at it and making sure it’s the best we can offer.”
Portales Schools qualified for $73,000 in funding for the breakfast program through a $1.8 million legislative appropriation because of its status in the state school report card called Adequate Yearly Progress.
“Our school breakfast program is key in helping eliminate the achievement gap in New Mexico,” said Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia. “Hunger is an obstacle for kids. It affects their concentration, energy, achievement and mental and physical development.”