Starting this fall, free breakfast will be offered to all elementary school students in the Janesville School District.

It isn’t completely new. Free breakfast has been offered at some schools for years, and families that qualified simply needed to drop off their children a little bit early.

But this year, breakfast will be available to all elementary school students, and it will be served in classrooms during the school day. Free breakfast for middle- and high-school students will continue to be served before school.

The goal, district officials say, is to reduce the stigma of free breakfast, get more kids to participate and, hopefully, improve classroom behavior and learning.

Here’s how it will work: Elementary school will start at 8:15 a.m. Kids will pick up their breakfasts when they enter their classrooms. The meals will consist of easily packaged or prepackage food such as apple slices, granola bars or Pop-Tarts.

Federal regulations require manufacturers to reduce sugar, salt and fat before they can be served in classrooms, said James Degan, head of food service for the district.

For example, a single blueberry frosted Pop-Tart from the grocery store has 200 calories, five grams of fat, 18 grams of sugar and 390 milligrams of sodium, according to the Kellogg’s website. Such a Pop-Tart in the school meal program has 180 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 15 grams of sugar and 180 milligrams of sodium, according to the USDA.

Kids will eat their breakfasts while teachers take attendance and make announcements. Kids can opt out of breakfast.

Breakfast will take between 10 and 15 minutes. Over a 180-day school year, that comes to between four and six days of instructional time.

Janesville School District Communications Specialist Patrick Gasper said the breakfast in the classroom would take the place of the mid-morning snack/milk break, so no instructional time will be lost.

“With the previous milk break, even if students (qualified) for free and reduced lunch, if they didn’t pay for the milk break, they didn’t get a milk,” Gasper said in an email. “And snacks had to either be brought in by students or provided by the teacher.”

Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force, said free breakfast in the classroom saves teachers about $300 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Hunger Task Force rates school districts on their access to free breakfast and lunch programs, and it considers breakfast during the school day the ideal delivery system.

“A far larger number of children get breakfast if it is served in the classroom,” Tussler said.

Degan agreed, saying that even if kids arrive early enough for a before-school meal, they often opt out, preferring to play with friends.

In addition, some parents find it difficult to get their children to school on time.

“Sometimes kids come rushing into school at the last minute,” Degan said.

How is poor parental time management—or apathy—the school district’s problem?

“It’s not the school district’s problem, but it’s not the children’s problem, either,” Degan said. “The kids aren’t the ones driving the cars or the buses that get them to school.”

Time spent on breakfast means students will learn better, and teachers will have to deal with fewer disciplinary issues, Degan said.

A 2013 article in the journal “Frontiers in Neuroscience” reviewed studies on school breakfast programs and found “evidence that breakfast positively affects learning in children in terms of behavior, cognitive and school performance.”

Breakfast in the classroom was piloted at a handful of Janesville elementary schools.

“Teachers were apprehensive when it started,” Degan said. “But they saw the benefit for the students.”

He expects that to be the case this fall, as well.

Money for the breakfast and lunch program does not come from local property taxes.

The majority of funding, about $4 million, comes from federal sources.

The rest of the food service budget comes from grants, state funds and meals that students and staff pay for, according to the district’s budget documents.

Federal regulations require the food service funds be accounted for separately. Any savings must be channeled back into food service and cannot be used in other departments, according to budget documents.

The goal is for the food service fund to be self supporting.

For the 2018-19 school year, food service expenses are expected to be $5.18 million, up from $5.05 million last school year.

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