Thousands of New Jersey high school students are shut out of breakfast once the first bell rings. A new report suggests that shouldn't be the case as a switch over to "breakfast after the bell" has made a stark difference on the elementary level.

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The program is federally-funded based on the number of meals provided, so districts with high concentrations of low-income children can feed most or all students at little or no extra cost, according to Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Their report released Monday finds 80 percent of New Jersey high schools offer breakfast to students before the first bell only.

"With high school, the start times are so early and some of these kids are also having to take care of younger siblings; there's transportation issues," said ACNJ spokesperson Nancy Parello. "Expecting them to get to school before 7:30 to eat breakfast is just unrealistic."

Twelve percent of high schools are making breakfast available after the bell, compared to 30 percent of elementary schools.

Since making the switch to breakfast after the bell, Atlantic City has seen its high school participation rate grow from about 20 percent to 85 percent. Newark and Union City offer a variety of methods to serve breakfast to students and each area has seen a significant jump in participation.

"That just gets them ready for school, they're ready to learn, and it really leverages the investment that we make in public education, which is significant," Parello said.

A December 2015 entry in the Journal of Adolescent Health said youth and young adults who experience hunger have much higher odds of encountering health-related social problems such as substance abuse and poor educational performance.

For years, New Jersey had been nearly last in the nation for its participation in the federal breakfast program. The state advanced to 23rd nationally in 2016.

The report noted breakfast after the bell can present challenges for high schools, such as the system to distribute food and clean up after the meal. Several schools have set up "grab and go" kiosks in the hallways that provide breakfast in a bag or box that can easily be discarded.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.