As Students at Jane Addams Elementary School in Palatine Settle in at the Beginn

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Byline: Kimberly Pohl

As students at Jane Addams Elementary School in Palatine settle in at the beginning of each day, pencils and notebooks won't be the only items on their desks.

For a 15-minute period before the start bell rings at 7:55 a.m., any of the 800 or so students can head to their classroom and eat a breakfast made up of skim milk, reduced-sugar cereal, juice and a whole-grain snack.

Breakfast in schools is nothing new. In the last 10 months alone, Palatine Township Elementary School District 15 has served more than 166,000 meals through the federal School Breakfast Program, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

But these particular meals won't cost students a dime, regardless of financial need.

"Kids don't learn on empty bellies," District 15 School Nutrition Services Director Bobbie Desprat said. "We want to start the day off on a positive foot."

Universal free breakfast, called Breakfast in the Classroom, is being tested in a growing number of schools in pilot programs using federal money. In Elgin Area School District U-46, for example, the Breakfast in the Classroom program was expanded this fall to 10 schools and 6,300 students.

District 15 officials saw Jane Addams as the natural choice for the pilot program.

For one, students there are accustomed to eating in their classrooms. The K-6 school has received fresh fruit and vegetable program grants in the past and students get fresh produce for a midmorning snack twice a week. …