Recorder: "No one goes hungry at Newton School"

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No one goes hungry at Newton School

By ANITA FRITZ

Staff Writer

Published: 10/2/2019 11:03:49 PM

GREENFIELD — While a child might arrive at school on any given day worried about something — unfinished homework, a loose tooth — he or she will not have to worry about hunger, says Newton School Principal Melodie Goodwin.

“For four or five years now, we’ve been feeding all of our students breakfast for free every day,” Goodwin said. “We’ve been able to use grants to provide breakfast in the classroom, along with free, healthy snacks twice a day. In my dream world, we’ll feed them lunch the same way someday.”

Goodwin said one of the reasons the school decided to feed all students for free was because she and the other adults in the building believe food shaming should never happen in school.

“We don’t want to bring attention to those students who can’t afford a healthy meal — and all students should get exactly that, no matter their financial situation,” she said.

Goodwin said she’s happy to see that Democratic U.S. Rep. James McGovern has introduced a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives with Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis from Illinois that would expand access to healthy school breakfasts for students across America.

Newton student eating breakfast

The Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act is endorsed by the nonprofit School Nutrition Association. It would strengthen and enhance the School Breakfast Program so that additional federal support would be available to participating schools that provide healthy, American-grown breakfast foods to students in preschool through 12th grade.

Each year, according to McGovern, nearly 13 million children go hungry throughout the nation, while research shows that students who eat breakfast perform better in school and have improved classroom behavior and attendance.

Goodwin said there’s always room for improvement and every little bit helps. She said the school is always keeping its eye open for grants and any help paying for breakfasts, lunches and snacks for students. Currently, the school receives a Healthy Start Award grant from the Eos Foundation, whose mission it is to “break the cycle of poverty by investing in children’s futures.”

She said any breakfast food that isn’t eaten is placed in a bowl in each classroom and children can choose them at snack time. She said she has seen major improvements in students’ behavior and performance since the program started at Newton.

“The children eat with each other in their classrooms, so it’s a nice, calm time to eat family-style,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the only meal a day when that happens.”

She said everyone pitches in when it comes to keeping classrooms clean so that crumbs don’t attract “little creatures.” She said teachers, staff and the custodian have come up with different ideas, including rolling trash cans, sink drainers, lots of Clorox wipes and more.

“The students become involved, as well,” she said. “Kindergartners, for instance, created their own placemats. Everyone is onboard with this and everyone is excited.”

Goodwin said Newton was a trailblazer for the rest of the Greenfield schools and beyond.

“We’ve had other schools visit us over the years to see how our program works, and some of them have incorporated similar programs,” she said.

Goodwin said it doesn’t stop with a free breakfast, though. Students also learn everything from cooking to pouring their own milk from a large carton, and they take field trips to pick apples and learn about how they are grown and their nutritional value. She said some students set up for breakfast, while others empty the trash afterward. Others hand out snacks at snack time.

The first-grade students in Micky Warren’s classroom said they love eating together every morning, typically between 8 and 8:30, after they’ve played on the playground. They said then they are ready for learning.

“This is an awesome program” Warren said. “Some kids come in hungry, but after breakfast, they’re all ready for school. And during breakfast, they sit and talk just like a family would.”

Goodwin said students are also exposed to foods they haven’t tried before, like different fruits and vegetables. She said many have tried pears, for example, for the first time in school.

“I think another thing we do by having breakfast in the classroom is get rid of the chaos,” Goodwin said. “Kids don’t have to decide between breakfast and playing on the playground before school. It slows the rush.”

McGovern said his two sisters, who are both public school teachers, say that healthy eating is just as important as textbooks when it comes to students learning.

“Teachers can lose an entire morning when kids who haven’t eaten breakfast can’t focus,” McGovern said. “We have millions of kids in this country who can’t concentrate because they’re showing up hungry to class.”

McGovern said it is a moral issue that legislators need to address. He said no child in America should go hungry, “period.”

Goodwin said hunger also turns into an economic issue, because hungry children who can’t learn can’t prepare for careers. She said eliminating hunger matters and is a great investment in the future.

“Children can’t learn if they’re hungry,” she said. “The poverty in our city is real, and this is the way we’re helping fight it. Some families have to choose between rent, meals and medications. We take the meals piece of that out of their worries, at least while school is in session.”

Goodwin said the state recently recognized Newton School with a citation for its Breakfast in the Classroom program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides both cash reimbursements and healthy, American-grown foods directly to more than 30 million schoolchildren each day through the national School Lunch Program, but the amount of food schools receive for breakfast is currently based only on the number of lunches served. The Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act would provide schools with an additional 6 cents in commodity support for every breakfast served.

Reach Anita Fritz at

413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.