Each morning at Weirton Middle School, students start the day with a muffin and fruit or a breakfast burrito, then proceed to their classroom for 20 minutes of accelerated reading while they eat, according to Hancock County Schools Superintendent Suzan Smith.
Across West Virginia, school students are taking in a slice of nutrition before they hit the books, as all school districts in the state are required to offer breakfast by the start of the 2014-15 school year.
The West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act - passed by state lawmakers in 2012 - mandates students be given an adequate opportunity to eat breakfast after arriving at school. It suggests three systems by which schools can provide breakfast to students: Grab and go breakfasts with easy to hold and carry food items, breakfast in the classroom or breakfast after first period.
Ohio County Schools is among school districts who offered breakfast opportunities to students prior to the mandate, according to Superintendent Dianna Vargo. Ohio County Schools provides breakfast opportunities for students prior to the start of school, as well as grab and go breakfasts they can take with them to class. This year, a second chance breakfast period was added to the schedule at 9 a.m..
"We are looking to expand our breakfast program," she said. "Since we added the second chance breakfast time this year, our meal participation has increased."
The breakfast menu at Wheeling Park High School this month includes such offerings as whole grain baked oatmeal breakfast rounds; bacon, egg and cheese burritos; and mini blueberry waffles.
In Hancock County, grab and go breakfasts are served at all schools. Students are provided such items as waffles with syrup, French toast sticks, bagels with cream cheese and oatmeal bars. Smith said students seem to like the grab and go breakfast options they can take with them to their classrooms.
"There's some expense, but it's worth it to have them eat breakfast," she said. "It's difficult to sit in a classroom and be hungry. There's always juice and milk they can have throughout the day, and good, healthy food items. A lot of student don't have time to eat at home, or they don't have an opportunity to get breakfast."
Marshall County Schools has offered free breakfast - as a well as a free lunch - since the start of the school year. School officials could not be reached for comment on how their program is progressing.
The West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act states that in 2012 in West Virginia, 32.3 million school lunches were served to students in public schools, and the measure seeks to increase that number. It cites a West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy report indicating that in 2011, more than 25 percent of the children in West Virginia lived in homes with a household income below the federal poverty line.
The Food Research and Action Center has found that providing a balanced school breakfast may protect against childhood obesity, according to the measure.
Also, students who eat properly and exercise regularly have increased standardized achievement test scores, miss fewer days of instruction due to health concerns and have better grades.
"An effective school breakfast program is not an interruption of the school day - it is an integral and vital part of the school day," the legislation states.