PRINCETON, WV, AUGUST 15, 2012:  On the first day of school, county students will gather their notebooks, pens, pencils, and book bags as they head out the door for the bus stop.  For the first time in the history of Mercer County Schools, they will not have to remember their lunch money.  Beginning August 27th, all students will be offered breakfast and lunch at no charge – with the exception of extra milk or a second meal.

In June, the Mercer County Board of Education unanimously approved the county’s participation in a national pilot program called Community Eligibility Option (CEO), a universal meal service plan for high poverty areas made possible by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. West Virginia was selected as one of four states in the nation eligible to try the program, an alternative to the traditional process of collecting and approving applications for free and reduced price eligibility based upon household income.

Mercer County Superintendent Deborah Akers said the change will likely result in increased participation in the meal program.  “Some of the schools will need to adjust their lunch schedules to accommodate more students,” she said, “and we are working with elementary principals to incorporate breakfast into the daily schedule without losing instructional time.” 

Akers suggested that a breakfast break for youngsters could offer teachers a time to read aloud to their students – a practice that is known to increase children’s interest and fluency in reading.  “The principals in each elementary school will develop a schedule by which students arrive at school, start their studies, and then –after 30 or 45 minutes-- rotate to the cafeteria for a quick grab-and-go breakfast.  During that cafeteria time, teachers can read aloud to their students or conduct other reading/enrichment activities, so no instructional time will be lost.”  

Child Nutrition Director Pamela Reid said the breakfast will include milk, fruit and fruit juice, and one serving of whole grain cereal, bread or baked item.  There may be a meat or meat exchange when the grain requirement is met.  As with school lunches, the portion sizes will equal the number of calories appropriate for the age of the students. 

“The goal of the school breakfast program,” Reid said, “is to encourage children to eat nutritiously, whether at home or at school.  We are going to do our very best to provide appealing, healthy choices.”   

Reid said that schools will make every effort to offer the breakfast meal even when operating on a 2-hour delay schedule.  

“I really believe that students who eat breakfast and lunch are more ready to learn, they are not distracted and can participate in what is going on in the classroom,” Akers said.  “I suspect that, with the old system, some students may have been self-conscious about eating, worried that others would know that they received free or reduced-price meals.”

“This pilot program,” said Akers, “will result in real savings for families, especially those with multiple children in school.”  Parents/guardians will not need to complete a paper or on-line application for free/reduced meal rates.  Akers said adult employees and visitors will still pay for meals at the regular price.