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Laurel Elementary honored for school breakfast program

'We're just reminding kids to eat breakfast and how important it is' Laurel Elementary Principal Melinda Lee

Laurel Elementary School has been named the Prince George's County winner of the Maryland Breakfast Challenge, which recognizes innovative solutions for increasing student participation in school breakfast programs.

"We kept getting the emails about it and wondering, what are we doing that's so special?" said Laurel Elementary Principal Melinda Lee. "We're just reminding kids to eat breakfast and how important it is."

During a celebration at the school Tuesday morning, Lee and students accepted a $1,000 prize on behalf of Laurel Elementary from the No Kid Hungry Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger and a partner in the Maryland Breakfast Challenge.

Children who eat breakfast are less likely to have behavioral issues at school and more likely to succeed academically, according to food and education research.

"I think that that's the most important meal of day," Lee said. "It gets your body fueled for movement, for your brain — everything."

These benefits do not always reach low-income children, half of whom do not regularly eat breakfast at home, according to a 2015 report from the Food Research and Action Center.

Lee said that 82 percent of her school's students are eligible for free and reduced lunches, which indicates that their families earn less than federal poverty thresholds.

Many state and federal programs offer breakfast at no cost to low-income students, but there are barriers to students' participation in these programs, such as the stigma attached to eating breakfast at school as something that poor students do, according to the No Kid Hungry Campaign.

Looking at data from the 2014-15 school year, Maryland Hunger Solutions found that 35 percent of low-income children in the state who received free and reduced lunches missed school breakfast.

One way to overcome the stigma is to serve breakfast to all students in the classroom, which 92 schools in Prince George's County do — including Laurel Elementary — through the Maryland Meals for Achievement Program. To be eligible to participate, at least 40 percent of a school's students must be eligible to receive free and reduced price meals.

"The kids are really enjoying eating breakfast in the classroom," Lee said. "They're able to socialize with their peers; they're working on warmups for the day."

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