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Published: Friday, 9/2/2005

Breakfast programs reach small percent of eligible students

BLADE STAFF

One of every six Ohio children comes to school hungry, leaving them ill-prepared to learn.

"I've witnessed many of these instances with children," said Charlie Kozlesky of Children's Hunger Alliance and a former teacher and principal.

In all, 120,000 Ohio children go hungry each day, but 500,000 are at risk of hunger, which means there may be food in the home, it's not the type of food that fuels learning, Mr. Kozlesky said.

Of that total, only 180,000 Ohio children from low-income families take part in school breakfast programs. If 90,000 more children took part, an additional $53 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be given to the state.

"You're paying your federal taxes. Those dollars are in Washington," Mr. Kozlesky said. "What we're trying to do is bring those dollars back so the children win and also the [school districts] win."

He said that 60 percent of Toledo Public Schools students come from low-income families, yet school breakfast is served to 17 percent of Toledo students.

State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), who has been a classroom teacher, said studies prove that "a breakfast could be good brain food in the classroom."

"My experience was that those children who didn't eat breakfast, it didn't matter whether they qualified for a free breakfast or not, by 10 o'clock, their heads were on the desk."

Teachers often keep snacks in their desks for those children, "but how much more benefit would we get academically out of students if they're ready and have a good breakfast to start out with," Ms. Fedor said. "I believe the resources are here. I think we can work through the barriers that exist."

Some districts serve breakfasts in the classroom, avoiding issues such as rescheduling buses and staffing. School breakfasts "are worth changing the systems that we have," Ms. Fedor said.

She and Mr. Kozlesky were questioned by Marilou Johanek, of The Blade editorial board.

The Editors will be broadcast at 9 tonight on WGTE-TV, Channel 30, and at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on WBGU-TV, Channel 27.



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