ST. PETERSBURG — Empty stomachs lead to low test scores.
That's the point Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and other officials emphasized Thursday as they celebrated Pinellas County Schools' breakfast initiative.
The school system recently made breakfast free for all students.
Food services director Art Dunham said the idea was to put everyone on the same level so kids who were on free and reduced lunch wouldn't feel like the poor kids.
Putnam said Thursday that the strategy has worked. In the past year, the number of kids who eat breakfast at school has gone from 16,000 to 25,000.
"Your mom, your grandmother: They're all right," Putnam said at Bay Point Elementary School on Thursday. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."
Putnam greeted children as they hopped off their yellow buses and lined up at an outdoor breakfast cart.
The commissioner bent down to say hello to a waist-high youngling with a too-big Dora the Explorer backpack.
He held out two pouches of juice to another girl. Apple or orange? She chose the citrus.
Putnam said he chose to tout Bay Point Elementary School's breakfast program at the Thursday news conference because they have found innovative ways to make food available and to make kids want to eat it — which he said can be a battle all its own.
Felita Grant-Lott, Bay Point Elementary principal, said this year the school has gone from 100 kids eating school breakfast to more than 200. She said the school has several initiatives, including the "grab-and-go" cart, which holds fresh fruit, juices and snacks like Pop-Tarts.
"We want our kids to be nourished and ready to learn," she said.