One thing that can help sleepy, hungry kids get ready to hit the books by the first school bell is a good breakfast.
Several local schools have learned the value of providing that meal and, as the school year winds down, the New Hampshire School Breakfast Challenge is singing their praises.
The challenge is run by New Hampshire Kids Count, a nonprofit organization that advocates for public initiatives affecting children. It tracks school breakfast participation and rewards school districts that increase participation semester to semester.
But while local schools are doing well, the state as a whole is getting low marks.
“New Hampshire happens to be 50th out of 50 states in terms of the use of this federal nutrition program,” said Erika Argersinger, policy director at New Hampshire Kids Count. “That tells us we’re not taking advantage of the program the way we should.”
Three local schools were rated “top achievers” in their categories for boosting participation over the challenge’s first quarter. They include: Lancaster Elementary School in Salem; Londonderry Middle School; and Windham High School.
The first quarter ran from October to February. Prizes are given to top achievers at the one-year mark — after two quarters — and after two years. There are no quarterly awards beyond recognition, Argersinger said.
School breakfasts typically cost 95 cents to $1.50, or 30 cents for those who qualify for a reduced rate.
Barbara Schultz, Salem School District director of food service, said the announcement came as a surprise.
Her district had sharp increases among all elementary schools with fewer than 300 students. That included a 200 percent increase in students served breakfast overall in the first quarter, according to Argersinger.
Lancaster School Principal Adam Pagliarulo said he welcomed the news, but being a top achiever was never his goal.
“As a district, we want kids to take advantage of our breakfast program, as well as our lunch program,” Pagliarulo said. “I wish I could say it was a goal of ours to be the leading small school, but it wasn’t.”