Learning starts with breakfast for Cape May students

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Learning starts with breakfast for Cape May students

CAPE MAY — Students don’t start the day in classrooms by opening up textbooks or getting out pencils and paper to take notes at Cape May City Elementary School. They have free breakfast.

On Tuesday morning, Dempsey Ryan, 8, of Cape May, sipped milk from a bowl after eating Cheerios. A partially eaten red apple and a carton of 1 percent lowfat milk were on the table beside her.

She was finishing her meal, part of a federally funded initiative called Food for Thought that started at the school in September. Dempsey, a third-grader, said students no longer have to wait in line for breakfast in the cafeteria. The food is served to them in their classrooms.

Food for Thought replaced a breakfast program in the cafeteria that provided food to students for free, at a reduced cost or at full price to students. Since the new program launched, the number of students eating breakfast at the Cape May school has skyrocketed, Superintendent Victoria Zelenak said.

There are 78 percent of students taking part in the new breakfast initiative, a 58 percent increase over the old program, she said.

Students also win prizes for taking part in the free breakfast program, Zelenak said. They receive a dolphin necklace, available in several colors such as blue and red.

“We’re very pleased with everything, with how it’s going,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning.

Without the new initiative, some students would end up hungry, kindergarten teacher LeeAnne Tarr said. Some students are not able to have breakfast at their homes, she said.

Zelenak said breakfast is an important meal for students. The meal helps students perform well in school, pay better attention, perform better on tests and improve their attendance, she said.

In addition, Tarr said having the free meal in the classroom helps settle the students down and lets them socialize with one another.

“It’s good. The kids enjoy it,” she said.

Third grade teacher Dee Sloan said the initiative helps get the student focused.

The menu continues to be improved. The free breakfast program began as cold food and now includes hot food, Zelenak said.

School officials have conducted surveys to see what foods students enjoyed the best. Third-graders even do some taste testing. One item they enjoyed was a hardboiled egg, Zelenak said.

In a vote taken by Tarr Tuesday morning in her classroom, most of the students enjoyed having fruit. Four of the students preferred cereal and three said french toast sticks.

Cafeteria workers bring the meals to and from the classroom, she said.

“They do a huge part,” Tarr said.

The elementary school gets reimbursed about a dollar a meal on average, which covers much of the program, according to Cape May’s school food service director Marianne Linnington. It is funded through the through the National School Breakfast Program.

The school has about 170 students in preschool through sixth grade.

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