It is National School Breakfast Week, when schools and districts across the nation celebrate the benefits of a healthy school breakfast.

But in Hawaii, we don’t have as much to celebrate. Our state ranks a dismal 49th in school breakfast participation, with only about four out of 10 low-income students who eat school lunch also getting school breakfast.

In the face of some of the highest food costs in the nation, many Hawaii families can’t afford to provide their children with a healthy breakfast every morning. Even higher-income families often can’t find time to sit down for a good breakfast before school. Meanwhile, studies show that students who skip breakfast have poorer cognitive functioning.

It’s important for kids to have breakfast (although they may want to go easy on the bacon and sausage).

Flickr: Janine

One way to ensure that our keiki are ready to learn is to participate in the School Breakfast Program. Research has shown that when students eat school breakfast, they also have better nutrition and lower rates of obesity, as well as improved attendance, behavior and grades.

Kamaile Academy, in Waianae, understands the importance of breakfast and has made changes to ensure more of their students can get it. While the vast majority of their students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, many were missing out on breakfasts that not only could help them learn better, but also could help relieve some pressure on their families’ budgets.

Grab And Go

So Kamaile started a “Wiki Breakfast” program and has been setting school breakfast participation records ever since. They moved their breakfast service time for their middle- and high-school students later, after first period. Cafeteria staff set up Grab-and-Go breakfast items on carts in the cafeteria, and close to 200 students pass through in about 10 minutes, taking their breakfast items and eating at tables outside before heading back into class.

When breakfast was served at its traditional time, before school, Kamaile saw only about 40 secondary students eating breakfast at school. Since starting the Wiki Breakfast program, their participation numbers have more than quadrupled, to close to 200 students per day!

If our entire state were to raise our school breakfast participation rate to 70 percent, almost 17,000 more of our keiki would benefit from school breakfast, and our state would get nearly $7 million per year in additional federal funds. The Hawaii School Breakfast Scorecard found 15 schools in our state — the School Breakfast Champions — who met or exceeded the 70 percent participation goal during the 2015-16 school year.

Even higher-income families often can’t find time to sit down for a good breakfast before school.

In addition to moving breakfast after the first bell, as Kamaile Academy did, another effective way to boost participation is the Community Eligibility Program, which allows high-poverty schools to offer school meals free of charge to all students. Not only does this make it easier for students and their families to access meals, but it also helps schools by streamlining meal service, as well as eliminating the cost and administrative burden of processing school meal applications.

The Hawaii Department of Education has been proactive and effective in recent years at expanding the number of CEP schools across the state. Hawaii went from seven CEP schools in the 2015-16 school year, to 30 schools in 2016-17, and on to 52 schools in 2017-18.

Hawaii Appleseed has launched a School Breakfast Challenge to help Hawaii schools increase their school breakfast participation numbers, especially among low-income students. We’re offering technical support and small grants to help with start-up costs.

All of our children deserve a good education that opens up opportunities for the rest of their lives, and school breakfast is an important tool that can help our students succeed. We can and must do better than 49th in the nation. Our keiki deserve it!

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