By Erin Albanese
School News Network
Just after the morning school bell rings, West Kelloggsville Elementary School teacher Joy Howard calls up her kindergartners one-by-one to hand them breakfast. They settle back in their seats to sip milk and juice, nibble cereal, crunch apples and devour muffins.
“It makes us healthy,” said kindergartner Jerez Prebble, after polishing off his morning meal.
Following spring break, six teachers at West served breakfast in the classroom as a way to make sure their students not only had the option to eat at school, but that a meal was put right in front of them every morning. It’s a way to get more children eating; while free breakfast has been available to all students before school through the School Breakfast Program for years, the number of them arriving in time to eat was lagging. At West, 79 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.
“The percentage of students at West eating breakfast was way lower than you’d expect the need to be,” said Principal Eric Schilthuis. “We want them to have a nutritious meal to get them through the morning.”
It’s a common scenario. Nationwide, 21 million U.S. children get free or reduced-price school lunch, but only half of those students get breakfast even though they are eligible. That’s according to No Kid Hungry, a campaign of Share Our Strength, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that connects children with healthy food offered through federal programs such as the School Breakfast and Summer Meals. In Michigan, offering breakfast is mandated in schools with a free and reduced-lunch population of more than 20 percent. Some low-income districts offer free breakfast to all students.
Research shows starting the day with breakfast has long-term benefits. According to the report, “Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis” by Deloitte and the No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices, students who eat breakfast attend an average of 1.5 more days of school; average 17.5 percent higher on math tests; and are 20 percent more likely to graduate high school.
Since serving it in the classroom, breakfast participation at West jumped from about 35 percent to 68 percent building-wide. That should increase more when more teachers offer it next school year. “It’s been a great success here,” said Brenda Jansen, food service director.
The Big Picture
The story is bigger than breakfast: it’s about ending childhood hunger. Amy Klinkoski, breakfast coach for Michigan No Kid Hungry, is working with Kent County districts, including Kelloggsville, to make breakfast more accessible.
Klinkoski recently coached food service directors on implementing a “Grab and Go” option at Union and Ottawa Hills high schools and C.A. Frost middle and high schools. The option allows students to grab prepackaged breakfasts from mobile carts in high traffic areas, such as hallways, entryways or cafeterias. Since starting the option, the number of Union High students eating breakfast has increased by 250 to 300 students per day, she said.
Wyoming, Godwin Heights, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, and Alpine Elementary in Kenowa Hills Public Schools have had breakfast in the classroom in place for several years.
In Wyoming’s Oriole Park Elementary School, second-grade teacher Danielle Terpstra said eating breakfast in the classroom is part of the routine for at least 50 percent of students. She keeps leftover breakfast items around for snacks later, so nearly every student in her room eats something.
“Some of the kids eat the food as breakfast, morning snack, some at lunch, and even ask to take some home,” Terpstra said. “I believe it gives the kids the necessary start to a healthy body and brain for learning that day.
“I am thankful that we can fill that basic need for so many of them,” she added. “I don’t have any test scores to back my claims, but I really believe that the breakfast is one thing we can do to get our kids just what they need at the start of the day.”
Klinkoski reminds hesitant educators that offering breakfast at the beginning of instruction time is the same type of interruption as having snack time later — and keeps hunger in check earlier. Also, increased revenue from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for more breakfasts offsets the cost of labor and food.
Why it Matters
According to the report “Ending Childhood Hunger” from The Lunch Box, a network supporting healthy school food programs, 48.8 million Americans — including 13 million children — live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. As a result, they struggle with hunger at some time during the year. The average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program monthly benefit is $1.46 per meal, and nearly half of SNAP recipients are children. Three out of four teachers say their students regularly come to school hungry.
In her kindergarten classroom, Joy Howard agreed starting the day with breakfast in class helps her students be more ready to learn until lunchtime.
“Some of the children who needed it the most were missing it,” she said. “There’s a comfort knowing that if they haven’t eaten, they can get it here.”