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      State wants more students at breakfast table

      As part of National School Breakfast Week, State Education Superintendent Mike Flanagan is presenting schools with a new challenge focused on making sure more students get a healthy kick-start to their every-day lives.

      The challenge is called "First Fuel for School" and the goal is to make sure that at least 60-percent of all students in every Michigan school, who get federally reimbursable school lunches, also receive a school breakfast.

      7&4 News wanted to see how Traverse City Public Schools, northern Michiganâ??s largest district, compared to the state averages, when it comes to students taking advantage of free meals, especially breakfast.

      TCAPS Chief Financial Officer Paul Soma says like other Michigan schools, their students also tend to skip-out on breakfast.

      Soma explains, "This is something we've been focusing on for the past few years, itâ??s why from a general stand point we have a pretty high percentage of students taking advantage of the breakfast program..."

      Soma crunched the numbers and says of the districts 10,000 students, 4,000 are eligible for free or reduced lunch and breakfast. On a daily-basis, 3,200 of these students take advantage of free lunch, while only 1,400 students take advantage of breakfast each day.

      Soma says they need to pin-point why students are skipping out on their morning meals. Soma says, "It could be arrival time of busses, arrival time of people not taking the busses, people getting to school right before it starts, that short time window, that's really probably one of the biggest drivers of that."

      There are many factors to consider and Soma says they already have made some changes. For instance they offer free universal meals to all students at three of the districtâ??s elementary schools. These include Traverse Heights, Blair, and Interlochen. The students at these schools receive free meals because they have the largest number of low income kids.

      The free meals at Traverse Heights and Blair Elementary Schools are paid for by federal funding, through the Direct Certification Process. The free meals at Interlochen are covered by the district.

      TCAPS Interim Food Service Director Gary Derrigan explains, â??For Interlochen Elementary School, the district subsidizes that program, and part of the rationalization is that they didn't quite make the cut for direct certification."

      Soma says, "We need to study what works, look at marketing, bell times, opportunity of eating in classrooms if we can, engage principals and teachers in implementing this because I think everyone sees the value of these breakfast programs. "

      7&4 News also contacted Mancelona School officials in Antrim County. They tell us that they offer free breakfast to all of their students each day. And like TCAPS, more students take advantage of the free lunch compared to breakfast.