Breakfast in the classroom

New initiative increases participation in free breakfast program and increases nutrition and performance for qualifying students

By Charlotte Beard

A school district continues to make strides on one of its foundational pillars – collaboration. On March 5, Normandy Schools Collaborative introduced its fourth Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) program at Barack Obama Elementary School. The six-month roll-out of the program was previously launched at Normandy’s other elementary schools – Lucas Crossing Elementary Complex, Jefferson Elementary School and Washington Elementary School.

Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom worked together to make the initiative possible, including provision of a $107,000 grant to ensure free breakfast for Normandy’s students. The collaboration involves Operation Food Search, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Foundation, NEA Healthy Futures and the School Nutrition Foundation. Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom is funded by the Walmart Foundation which makes it possible for them to provide technical assistance and support to school districts in the implementation of BIC.

Brian Wieher, Director of Child and Family Nutrition for Operation Food Search shared that the change in how breakfast is provided enables more students to partake in the first meal of the day.

“While breakfast is offered free at Normandy, not all students were partaking in breakfast,” stated Wieher. “Though it’s offered for free only about half of the students in this school were eating breakfast. The other half just chose not to – it wasn’t cool to eat in the cafeteria or for whatever reason – they weren’t going. They weren’t getting the benefits of the nutrition. When we do this, we see increased attendance, decrease in tardiness, decrease in poor behavioral issues. We see a decrease in going to see the school nurse because they don’t feel good because they’re hungry. A lot of the kids in this school come from food insecure families; many of them do not have dinner. This is their first meal since lunch yesterday.”

Research conducted by Operation Food Search provides various reasons for why many children in Missouri don’t eat school breakfast when it is served in the cafeteria. Some of the reasons are: a lack of awareness about the school’s breakfast program, lack of time to eat breakfast, late bus schedules and the stigma associated with the program. Sources provide that various states across the country are requiring schools move to the non-traditional breakfast model like BIC and that 12 states have enacted legislation that require low-income schools with low breakfast participation to implement non-traditional breakfast service.

Principal Netra Taylor-Nichols for Barack Obama Elementary School shared her view of the BIC initiative, “It definitely has supported the climate and the culture of the building, especially in the morning because it lessens the transitions. Our kids transition from home to get to the bus stop, bus stop to the bus, bus to school, bus to the cafeteria then the gymnasium. So, cutting out some of those transitions has been very helpful within the climate. Also, for us we had 53 percent of our kids eating in the cafeteria, now we’re at 97 percent who are eating. It also sets the tone in the classroom, whereas (in the past) teachers had to slow down they are (now) really building those relationships and the kids are building relationships with each other in the classroom. So, it all sets more of a community environment when they’re having breakfast in the classroom.”

Each morning teachers transport a wagon prepped with food sacks by cafeteria staff to their classroom from which students retrieve their breakfast to eat at their desk in the presence of fellow classmates.

“Teachers are really starting to enjoy it more because they get a little more time one-on-one with their kids,” stated Wieher. “It’s technically part of the instruction time so we don’t take anything away from the school day. It’s almost done by the time morning announcements are over.”

“It’s beneficial for the kids,” shared first grade teach Ms. Walker, “and it gives me an opportunity to control the tone for the day as well as make sure that they all eat so they can have a good start. And it allows me to put a routine in place. They know exactly what to do; they become accountable for cleaning up and making choices for what they want to eat.”

Trina Ragain, Community Engagement Director for Operation Food Search shared that there is a table provided in the classroom for items a student chooses not to eat, from which another student can retrieve additional items if desired. Ragain stated the USDA will only reimburse for individual meals in which all necessary items are consumed. The program is designed to serve nutritionally well-balanced breakfasts that meet the USDA nutrition standards for the School Breakfast Program (SBP).  

Operation Food Search’s research provides that Missouri ranks 15th in school breakfast participation among low-income students. If Missouri reached the national benchmark of 70 percent of low-income students who eat school lunch would also access school breakfast, it would result in more than $9,490,000 in additional breakfast reimbursement annually by the USDA to participating Missouri schools.

A school’s qualification for the BIC grant includes meeting various criteria not limited to determining whether 70 percent or more of its students are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals and/or free breakfast to all students. For more information visit www.BreakfastintheClassroom.org

CUTLINE: Photos by Kate Edmonson Students at Barack Obama Elementary School in the Normandy Schools Collaborative participate in the Breakfast in the Classroom program.