PRINCETON, WV, July 16 , 2014:   During the 2013 National School Lunch program Conference last week in Morgantown, Mercer County Schools was recognized for having the most improved breakfast participation rate of any county in the state. 

On behalf of Richard Goff, Executive Director of the state Office of Child Nutrition,  WV Senator John Unger presented a certificate of achievement to Pamela Reid, Mercer County Nutrition Director.

The award, new this year, pays tribute to counties that have made school breakfast a priority, developing procedures to encourage students to eat breakfast.  Higher participation rates also coincide with last year’s adoption of Universal/Free Meal Service in several counties including Mercer.

In June 2012, 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 severe need 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.

From 2012-2013, Mercer County’s breakfast participation skyrocketed from 28% to 60% -- the biggest increase among all fifty-five counties.  Locally, 17 elementary schools and one high school instituted “Grab and Go” or “Breakfast in the Classroom” options to make breakfast more accessible to all students.  The remaining schools continue to offer breakfast in the cafeteria for those who arrive in time to eat it.

Dr. Akers had the vision to require that the county move to Universal Meal Service and really maximize the benefits of eligibility.  She encouraged principals to incorporate breakfast into students’ daily schedules to improve the rate of participation.

“Some of the schools showed increases even greater than the county rate,” said Reid.  “Memorial Primary jumped from 45% to 88% which was wonderful because that is the age where breakfast matters most.” 

Reid credited Principal Becky Peery for the tremendous response.  “She was so instrumental – really a cheerleader for the breakfast program.”

The Nutrition Director also saluted Princeton High administrators Jack Parker and Steve Pack.  Last year, the largest school in the county had, on average, 100 students eating school breakfast.  This year, the average rose to 850.

According to Reid, “They [Parker and Pack] really believe the research -- that students who eat breakfast do better in school -- and they put into place the “Breakfast after First” program by which breakfast items are served to every classroom at the end of the first class of the morning.

Reid stressed that, at Princeton High and elsewhere, preparing and delivering breakfast involves almost everyone –sometimes aides, custodians, secretaries, and teachers.

Most school staff  believe that the extra effort pays off.  Research indicates that students who eat breakfast score higher on math and reading tests, have better attendance, require fewer trips to the school nurse, and demonstrate increased learning and more focused time on task.

Since heading up the Nutrition Office a year ago, Reid has brought exciting changes to the Mercer County Schools nutrition program. Four new hot breakfast menu items will be added this fall.  Cooks are preparing more made-from-scratch entrees, and lunch choices continue to expand to include colorful fresh fruits and vegetables.  When school resumes in August, area farmers will provide corn, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, and other locally-grown vegetables to school cafeterias for lunch preparation.  

Recently, the county Nutrition Office posted their own web page, accessible from Mercer County Schools’ webpage by clicking “Information,” then “Breakfast and Lunch.”  Once school begins, breakfast and lunch menus will be regularly posted and updated for parents and students to view.