NIOTA, TENNESSEE (WRCB) - It's not easy focusing on school work when you're hungry.
School officials say too many kids are going to school these days after having little or no breakfast. McMinn County Schools are giving their students a chance to "start smart" each day, with a free breakfast program that could result in healthier, smarter students.
The school district has linked up with the USDA's School Nutrition Program to provide a free breakfast for any student who could use an early morning boost.
School nutrition director Carol Young said, "We know from research that students do better with good nutrition to start their day. We see better behavior and better test scores. They're not hungry, not having headaches, or stomach aches and their nutritional intake is better."
Niota Elementary School is one of the pilot sites for the free breakfast program, and the reaction has been pleasantly surprising, even from some students who were at first reluctant.
Cafeteria manager Hayley Givens said, "They didn't think they wanted to participate, but once they saw the variety of foods we offer, and the fact that it is all free, they changed their mind. We're so excited about it."
The breakfast program works just like the traditional lunch program. Students check in with their registration cards, but there's no charge for any breakfast item. As long as the interest is there, McMinn school officials will serve up a healthy helping of breakfast.
Assistant principal Ron Morris said, "If we continue to have strong demand, we'll be able to continue to serve breakfast after the Christmas break."
If early interest in the program is any indication, it may be around a while. Now that breakfast is free, participation is up 28 percent countywide.
Ms. Young said, "This means every day, we're serving 1700 students breakfast, and we know we are helping them in so many ways."