The key to a healthy, prosperous future for Minnesota might just be giving more kids access to breakfast.

Kamren Anderson and Isidro Zuniga are seniors at Hiawatha Collegiate High School in Minneapolis, where breakfast is as much a part of the routine as calculus and gym. Through Hiawatha’s Breakfast After the Bell program called “Second Chance Breakfast,” they have access to breakfast foods during passing time between first and second periods, something that has made all the difference in successfully getting them through their day.

“Eating breakfast every day helps me learn better because my focus is stronger,” said Anderson. Isidro is grateful that his peers, who often have trouble getting to school on time, get a second chance at a nutritious start to their day.

In fact, before implementing the Breakfast After the Bell program, Hiawatha had between 25 and 50 students eating breakfast at school every day. Now, there are upwards of 350 students accessing the morning meal before school starts or between first and second periods via various kiosks that are placed throughout the halls during passing time.

At nearby Hmong International Academy, social worker Kiley Krocak reports that behavior referrals — sending kids to the principal’s office — have dropped by 40 percent since they brought in breakfast after the bell.

We know that amazing things happen when kids eat school breakfast. Research shows that when kids consistently eat a healthy breakfast their test scores, attendance and graduation rates improve. Teachers and principals also report that classrooms are more calm and focused.

The traditional school breakfast program, which serves breakfast before the start of the school day, is a good first step toward addressing hunger and supporting student achievement. But participation is limited and so is the impact. In Minnesota, nearly half of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals aren’t getting breakfasts at school. Many students simply do not arrive in time to get to the cafeteria before classes begin.

Increasing the availability of free school breakfast for Minnesota’s learners is an important, common-sense way to create a healthier future for the next generation.

Breakfast After the Bell — a model by which breakfast is offered after the official start of the school day — is proven to be one of the best ways to overcome barriers to school breakfast participation. That’s why Second Harvest Heartland, Hunger Solutions and Children’s Minnesota — alongside leaders in health care, agriculture, education, manufacturing, social service and other sectors — worked with lawmakers to introduce House File 1037 and Senate File 1427 to the Minnesota Legislature last month.

Breakfast after the Bell legislation will increase access to a nutritious school breakfast for all of Minnesota’s learners. It will provide support to schools, like meal reimbursements, to either establish or expand school breakfast programs.

This legislation will be a game-changer for the thousands of students who would benefit from healthy school breakfasts. That is why school leaders, parents, teachers, anti-hunger advocates and community leaders are urging our legislators to include funding for the bills in their budget proposal to Gov. Tim Walz.

 

Allison O’Toole is CEO, Second Harvest Heartland. Emily Chapman is chief medical officer, Children’s Minnesota. Colleen Moriarty is executive director, Hunger Solutions.