GREENFIELD — Some students spend their time at the table, eating their breakfast while they finish up homework. Others grab a juice and Pop-Tart on the go.

Making sure a wholesome meal is available to students, even those who can’t afford to buy it, was the goal of educators who piloted Greenfield-Central School Corp.’s breakfast program some seven years ago. This year, the program expands to include every school in the county’s largest and neediest district — a goal years in the making.

Nearly a third of Greenfield-Central’s 4,500 students come from a household with an income low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, the federal benchmark for measuring need in a school district, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

At Eastern Hancock, about 28.5 percent of students qualify; that drops to 25 percent at Mt. Vernon and approximately 19.5 percent of Southern Hancock.

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The county’s other school districts already serve breakfast at each of their schools, according to school officials. Greenfield officials have been working to expand their program corporation-wide since 2006, Zurwell said.

The breakfast program is an expansion of federal food programs already in place at Greenfield-Central; during the school year, needy students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals.

During the summer, the school participates in a national summer feeding program to provide breakfast and lunch to all area kids while they’re away from school.

The district launched the breakfast program at the schools with the highest number of students in need several years ago and gradually expanded as they worked out the logistics of the program, Zurwell said.

Now, school officials are spreading the word to ensure every student who needs breakfast — whether their family can afford it — gets a healthy meal. While 32 percent, or 1,400 students, qualified for free or reduced-price meals last year, only about 6 percent of students, or 250, used the program, Zurwell said.

Last year, more than 41,000 breakfasts were served, according to district data, with the majority — 77 percent — going to children on the discount meal program, Zurwell said.

That tells Zurwell the effort meets the need of families who might struggle to keep their pantries stocked.

Students who don’t qualify for free or reduced-price meals can buy breakfast for $1.25, and some do, but the program isn’t intended to be a money-maker for the district, Zurwell said.

“It’s about feeding one more child,” he said.

School districts decide how they want to serve breakfast — at some schools, it is served in the classroom. Others serve the meal before school starts either in the cafeteria or on the bus.

At Greenfield-Central, students are given about 20 minutes before school begins to eat. They’re able to choose from a variety of cold options — cereal, fruit, milk or granola bars — and on Wednesdays, a hot meal, such as pancakes or biscuits and gravy, is served. They’re dismissed from the cafeteria before class begins.

Providing breakfast allows the district to help every student get a healthy start to the day, said Superintendent Harold Olin.

It’s a notion backed by education studies. According to the Food Research and Action Center, a national nonprofit that seeks to eradicate hunger, students who eat a nutritious breakfast score higher on math and reading tests. Those who start their days with breakfast are less likely to be overweight and have improved nutrition, according to the center.

There are a variety of reasons some students skip breakfast in the morning, Olin said. Maybe there isn’t food in the house. Or maybe Mom and Dad both work, and mornings are hectic.

Either way, now students can eat breakfast at school.

“We want help them get a healthy start to the day so their brains are working the way we want them to,” Olin said. “If you’re thinking about your physiological needs, you’re not able to be thinking about learning.”

By the numbers

Roughly 32 percent of Greenfield-Central schools students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Nearly 49 percent of students at Harris Elementary qualify for the program, and about 37.5 percent of students at Greenfield Intermediate School receive free or reduced-price meals.

Weston Elementary School was the last school in the district to start serving breakfast before school begins. The elementary school launched the program this August.

Last year, more than 41,000 breakfasts were served at seven of the district’s eight schools — 77 percent of those meals were served to students who qualify for free lunch.

Roughly 5.6 percent of the district’s 4,500 students took advantage of the program last school year.

At a glance

Last year, more than 3,400 students across the county qualified for free and reduced-price lunches, the federal benchmark for measuring need in a school district, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Now, all of those students are provided breakfast in the morning as Greenfield-Central completed the launch of its breakfast program.

Greenfield-Central has the county’s neediest population of students, with roughly a third qualifying for discounted or free lunches and breakfasts.

At Eastern Hancock, roughly 28.5 percent qualified.

About 25 percent of students at Mt. Vernon qualified for the program, and roughly 19.5 percent of Southern Hancock kids see free or discounted meals.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.