The findings are contained in a report issued by Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a nonprofit children research and action organization. It is the group's second annual school breakfast report
Statewide, New Jersey saw a 21 percent increase in the number of children from low-income families getting lunch at school. Still, the report notes that, according to the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger organization, New Jersey ranked 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in low-income student participation in the government-subsidized free or reduced breakfast programs. Pennsylvania ranks 36th.
"When children are hungry, they struggle to learn," said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the state child advocates group. "Expanding school breakfast participation, then, significantly leverages the substantial investment we make in public education."
Locally, the Beverly City school district and the Camden's Pride Charter School were identified in the report as "Breakfast Champions." Those were the 20 districts or charters that had high levels of low income students and the highest free- and reduced-price meal participation.
In Beverly City, 75 percent of the elibible children received breakfast. At Camden's Pride, that rate was 73 percent.
The seven South Jersey schools or charters that had low participaton rates were Brooklawn (15 percent), D.U.E. Season Charter in Camden (17 percent), Camden Academy Charter (18 percent), Willingboro (23 percent), Mount Holly (24 percent), Burlington City (26 percent), and Lindenwold (27 percent).
Despite its high concentration of poor families, only 39 percent of the Camden City school district's eligible children get school breakfast, according to the report.
Valeria Galarza, program manager with the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids in Camden County, said her organization was working with the district at Camden City's Forest Hill Elementary School to increase participation in the breakfast program.
"In general, school districts have a hard time working with the logistics of implementation," Galarza said. "What they fail to realize is once you have (a program) in places, it's pretty simple."
Charter schools were disproportionately represented on the list of 64 low-participation schools. There were 31 charters on the list, or 48 percent.
Nancy Parello, communications director for the advocacy group, said it has been working with the New Jersey Charter Schools Association to increase charter participation in providing breakfasts.
Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841, email@example.com or on Twitter @ritagiordano.