Whitehall students who arrive a bit early to class this year will enjoy a hot breakfast -- for free.

Whitehall students who arrive a bit early to class this year will enjoy a hot breakfast -- for free.

The Whitehall City School District is piloting a free breakfast program beginning in September, serving all students regardless of age or income.

No applications will be required.

The pilot is the result of changing federal food guidelines for school children, affecting both breakfast and lunch servings. District officials are piloting the program in an effort to determine the interest level in free breakfast. Currently, the district serves breakfast only to those whose parents or guardians complete an application and qualify financially.

"We're trying to see what the needs are," said Susie Carr, the district's assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, "and that's why we decided to pilot it."

Earlier this year, first lady Michelle Obama and agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled new standards for school meals that they hope will result in healthier offerings for youth nationwide. The new meal requirements raise standards for the first time in more than 15 years.

By boosting nutrition requirements at school, federal officials hope to boost the health of the nearly 32 million students who participate in school meal programs every year.

Whitehall already serves breakfast to about 220 students a day at each of its buildings. Because of both the nutritional changes and changes in the way schools run their free and reduced-price lunch program, districts are getting more wiggle room.

According to Carr, districts with at least 40 percent already on a free or reduced-price lunch program are permitted to offer schoolwide offerings rather than only to families who complete the application and qualify.

Andy Riggle, the district's director of administrative services, admits this could put a strain on kitchen personnel but said the pilot would help determine how much of a strain.

"We thought this was a great idea for obvious nutritional reasons," Riggle said. He said no plans are in the works to add any staff, even if the pilot program were successful.

"We have to keep costs down," he said. "We will make this work with the staff we have."

Both Riggle and Carr said the breakfast would be hot, although some more simple offerings might be served in the first weeks of the program as staff determines demand.

"If it's good and word gets out, the numbers will increase," Riggle said.

Breakfast will be offered 15 to 20 minutes before the school day starts in each of the school's cafeterias.

Those who take advantage of the free or reduced-price lunch program still must fill out a financial application to qualify for those lunch programs. Applications are provided to each family at the beginning of the school year.

According to Carr, 75 percent to 85 percent of students take advantage of the district's lunch program.

Riggle said the schools will communicate with families about the free breakfast program.

Carr said the district would examine data collected this year during the program to determine what course to take next year.