COLUMBIA — Missouri school districts can now win cash prizes for increasing the number of students who eat breakfast at school.
The Missouri School Breakfast Challenge encourages more participation in school breakfast programs in public, private and charter schools across the state.
All public schools in Columbia have been automatically enrolled in the challenge, said Laina Fullum, director of nutrition for Columbia Public Schools. Participation is voluntary.
"Columbia Public Schools are one of the few districts that have all of the schools in the program," she said.
A district is eligible to receive a monetary award, ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, from the Midwest Dairy Council if they report a 20 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year to the 2012-2013 school year.
Schools report their progress to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on a monthly basis.
"We know that studies show us that when kids have a healthy breakfast, they're able to do better academically," said Sarah Potter, communications coordinator for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"Unfortunately, only 22 percent of kids are getting breakfast from schools."
Around 30 percent of students in Columbia's public schools take advantage of school breakfast, Fullum said.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Columbia Public Schools served 33 breakfast meals per student last school year.
In order to reach the 20 percent increase, they must serve 39 breakfast meals per student during the current school year.
All schools in the district provide breakfast, but 12 schools qualify to serve free meals to all students under Provision 2 of the National School Lunch Act. Under the provision, schools can be reimbursed for serving breakfast and lunch to all students when the majority are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
This school year, three schools — Center of Responsive Education, Oakland Junior High and Douglass High School — were added to a list of nine schools that already qualified under the provision.
The original schools include Derby Ridge, Parkade, Blue Ridge, Benton, West Boulevard, Alpha Hart Lewis, Cedar Ridge and New Haven elementary schools and Lange Middle School.
The rest of the public schools in Columbia are increasing their marketing to promote breakfast, Fullum said, but still require ineligible students to pay for meals.
Certain strategies, such as serving breakfast in the classroom, have been adopted to boost participation.
Micky Smith, kitchen manager at Benton Elementary School, said students in second grade and above can take breakfast from the kitchen back to their rooms
"Today, I fed about 200 children," she said. "We usually feed about that much every day."
Typical breakfast items at the school are yogurt, cereal, biscuits and bagels, Smith said.
Potter said the Missouri School Breakfast Challenge is "really in line with the 10 by 20 plan," which aims for Missouri to rank educationally in the top 10 states by 2020.
"We feel like starting the day with a healthy breakfast is really going to fuel the kids," she said.