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Ringgold expands district's free breakfast program

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Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, 5:53 p.m.

Dr. Karen Polkabla witnessed firsthand in the classroom the correlation between nutrition and learning.

“When I was a teacher, we did not have breakfast in school,” Polkabla said. “I sometimes had kids complain of a stomach ache. When we started the breakfast program, that all went away.”

Now, the Ringgold School District is offering free breakfast to all students in all grades.

The free breakfasts started at the elementary schools at the beginning of the school year. With the resumption of the school year in January, free breakfasts will be offered to middle and high school students as well.

“It's always good for kids to have a good start to the day,” said Polkabla, the district's superintendent.

Dr. Clover Simms Wright, assistant professor/department of childhood education at California University of Pennsylvania, applauded the program begun at Ringgold.

Previously in her career, Wright taught in a school district in Louisiana that had a high percentage of students in the free or reduced lunch program.

Wright said there is a correlation between nutrition and learning.

“Every teacher knows that a hungry student isn't going to be able to focus, do their best,” Wright said. “In my experience teaching students coming from low-income houses, some students I knew, the only meals they were getting they got in school.”

About 50 percent of the students at Ringgold Elementary School South qualify for free or reduced lunch. About 35 percent at Ringgold Elementary School North qualify.

Wright noted that some Head Start programs provide breakfast, lunch and snacks for students. Some even provide backpacks of food for kids to eat over the weekend.

Wright said breakfast is important because with many two-income or single-parent families, there often is no time to make breakfast. Students also face longer bus rides, making breakfast important for the students before they start classes.

Wright grew up in West Virginia, in a poor area where unemployment lingered around 20 percent. There, most of the schools had free lunch available. She said Pennsylvania is just starting a program that West Virginia schools had implemented due to high poverty levels.

Ringgold food services director Mary Semancik said the breakfast program is governed through the National School Lunch Program. That federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946, according to the program's website.

“This is a good opportunity to feed a lot of students who might be leaving the home without a meal,” Semancik said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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