BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Higher test scores, better attendance rates and a boost in graduation numbers begin with one word: breakfast. This week, the state launched its Breakfast Challenge to get more students eating the most important meal of the day.

Gigi Barnett explains how it works.

It’s 7:45 a.m. at Cecil Elementary in East Baltimore. Classes start with a banana, apple wedges and a bagel. It’s breakfast with a teacher.

This week, the state launched its Breakfast Challenge–a push to get as many students across Maryland eating the most important meal.

“I have a goal of being the winner of the Baltimore Spelling Bee this year. And if I really wanted to do it, I just have to eat my breakfast,” said Curtis Lawson, student.

Baltimore City is 1 of 18 school districts taking the challenge and offering breakfast to students. Across the state, about 60 percent of kids eligible for free and reduced lunch at school are getting breakfast in class.

But that’s not enough, and school leaders say that one meal can have a dramatic effect on grades and test scores.

“We can’t learn on an empty stomach,” city school CEO Greg Thornton said.

Thornton is asking parents to back the Breakfast Challenge because the school district with the most students receiving breakfast wins a slew of prizes.

“We certainly ask that they join us in suggesting and pushing our young people into the school in the morning to be certain that they get a great, great breakfast,” Thornton said.

Some parents are already on board.

“Some people can’t afford to feed their children breakfast in the morning, so it’s great that it’s offered here at school,” said Jocelyn Lawson, parent.

State school leaders say their goal with the Breakfast Challenge is to get an additional 10,000 students eating the most important meal in class across Maryland.

Maryland is in the top 15 states across the country that is boosting breakfast programs for low-income students.

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