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Free breakfast pushed for better performance
Students who come to school with an empty stomach find it harder to concentrate and are more disruptive. And since many children are leaving home without breakfast, the Ceres Unified School District is offering free breakfasts to all students, excluding the charter school students.

"Because such a high percentage of our students are eligible for free or reduced meals, it makes sense economically to be able to feed everyone," said CUSD Supt. Scott Siegel.

Approximately 80 percent of all Ceres students below the federal government's poverty line standard for free or reduced lunches, said Asst. Supt. Fred Van Vleck. The income limit is $3,446 per month for a family of four, or $4,624 for a family of six.

"It makes sense but it's not our primary purpose for doing it," said Van Vleck. "Research shows that students who come to school with food in their stomachs are less disruptive and more attentive and less apt to visit the school nurse. It's amazing how many kids go to the nurse with stomach aches and it's mostly due to them being hungry."

During a pilot program last year at Westport in which all students were offered free breakfasts, CUSD noticed a reduction in classroom problems. Westport was serving about 70 breakfasts before the program but when free breakfasts were offered to all, those numbers increased to over 250.

Each school is opening its cafeteria or multi-purpose room 30 minutes prior to the start of school to offer a selection of foods. Initially the meals are cold meals, such as bananas and cereal but will gradually include hot meals as well.

"We'll have quite a few choices for what the kids want to have," said Van Vleck.

CUSD opted not to provide breakfast carts in the classroom, which other Valley districts are offering.

"We're funneling our kids through the cafeteria."

Like other school districts in the country, CUSD gets food through a variety of ways. The federal government provides government food commodities - such as cheese, milk and flour - and also receives subsidies for each meal served, including meals which students pay for.

Van Vleck said the program is expected to generate enough subsidies through increased numbers to pay for the program's offering to all kids. The federal government pays CUSD $2.79 per "free" meal and 29 cents for every meal which is paid by a child. The state kicks in $1.80 and 27 cents respectively.

CUSD may "struggle" to cover the costs at Sam Vaughn Elementary, whose students come from the most affluent families, said Van Vleck. However, at schools like Walter White Elementary, or Caswell Elementary, the program is expected to cover costs at schools more well-off socio-economically.

Van Vleck said he understands that some many have a problem with the government providing free lunches to families who can afford it. But he said "when we're dealing with 80 percent who qualify for free lunches, many parents are not feeding their children. That's a reality."