TAMPA — When Carolyn Riggins started serving breakfast at Sulphur Springs Elementary during the weekly Saturday FCAT prep workshop, 10 or 15 students would show up.
The school’s Saturday Academy is geared toward students who need to boost their scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
As students learned the program came with a hot meal, Riggins found that attendance gradually crept higher each week, sometimes reaching 75 or more students.
“The most impressive thing to me was as kids learned they were getting a hot, nutritious breakfast, I would see them getting out of the car in the mornings and say to their moms, ‘I’ve got to hurry up and go get my breakfast,’ ” Riggins said. “More and more, I saw them begin to really pour in there.”
Riggins manages Feeding America Tampa Bay’s Kids Cafe, which feeds about 600 Hillsborough County children in after-school programs. The hunger relief organization also feeds about 250 Pinellas County students after school.
Riggins and other Feeding America employees and volunteers prepare and serve breakfast to students in the Saturday programs at Sulphur Springs and Robles elementary schools. Those programs will be offered starting in January and will last until students take the FCAT in the spring.
For the first time this year, Feeding America representatives will begin serving breakfast to students in Shaw Elementary’s Saturday program, which kicks off this weekend.
At all three schools, at least 90 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. On the weekends, many of them most likely do not get healthy meals, Riggins said.
“We make very sure they got something good and warm,” Riggins said. “Grits, eggs, bacon with orange juice. That’s a huge incentive for a lot of those kids.”
Sulphur Springs’ program, offered to students in third through fifth grades, runs in four- or five-week cycles leading up to the FCAT, Assistant Principal Angela Livingston said. A typical Saturday includes lessons from 9 to 11:30 a.m., taught by teachers at the school.
Many students who have gone through the program have brought up their grades and test scores, said Livingston, who was happy to hear that Feeding America will begin offering breakfast at Shaw Elementary’s Saturday program.
“It’s extremely beneficial,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation for us.”
Parent Jeannette Hicks said her 10-year-old son Jarvis Robinson’s FCAT scores improved last year after going through Sulphur Springs’ Saturday program.
“It’s been fantastic,” Hicks said. “They help him get onto the level he needs to be.” firstname.lastname@example.org