Breakfast for Every Child: A Conversation with Knox County Schools
If you’re hungry, chances are that you won’t be focused on your meeting, paying attention to a seminar or truly engaged in anything you’re trying to do. The same happens for children in school. Being hungry affects their capacity to focus in the classroom (as noted by, for example, the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress).
There are numerous reasons students may come to school hungry: Tight family budgets, limited morning time to prepare a nutritious meal, or a child being physically incapable of eating immediately after waking up. Research shows that school breakfast programs can address these circumstances. And through innovative programs such as Breakfast in the Classroom, schools and districts are ensuring that no child slips through the crack and has to spend the school day hungry.
Knox County Schools in Knoxville, TN, is one such district. One of 10 districts chosen to receive grant funding to increase the number of students participating in the school breakfast program, the district is in the process of expanding the number of schools participating in its Breakfast in the Classroom program from five to 17. We recently spoke with Sherry Morgan, President of the Knox County Education Association, and Jon Dickl, Director of School Nutrition for Knox County Schools, to learn more about the program and why it is important.
Public School Insights (PSI): What is the Breakfast in the Classroom program?
Knox County (KC): Breakfast in the Classroom is a program where a school-provided breakfast is eaten in all classrooms at the beginning of the day. This program greatly increases participation in the federally-assisted school breakfast programs that serve low-income students. By providing breakfast to each child in the classroom, we ensure that all children will benefit from a healthy breakfast and be ready to focus on their schoolwork. Students are not separated out from peers to eat a meal separately and therefore not stigmatized by receiving a free meal. They also do not miss their meal if they are unable to get to school early enough to have a breakfast prior to the start of the day.
PSI: What results have you seen that convinced you that the program should be expanded?
KC: Lonsdale Elementary has had this program in effect for over 5 years with enduring success, with four additional sites implementing the program last school year. We have encountered a reduction in tardiness, reduction in disciplinary referrals, improved meal participation, and improved readiness for the educational process (i.e. more calm start to the school day).
PSI: Logistically, how does the program work? For example, what do the meals consist of, where does the food come from, and how is it distributed once it arrives at the school? What role, if any, does school cafeteria staff play in the process?
KC: The logistics are customized for each site, based on the plant facility design (i.e. do they have steps? Elevators? Portables?) The meals are prepared by the cafeteria staff and offer traditional favorites, like whole grain (WG) sausage biscuits, WG croissants with egg and cheese, WG chicken biscuit, WG waffles and mini pancakes, fresh fruit, fruit juice, and flavored and unflavored milk. The café staff prepares food items, distribute some, and pick up coolers and/or trash, depending on what works best at each site and what minimizes any impact on instructional time.
PSI: How much does the program cost?
KC: The grant provides $357K in financial support, for equipment, training, and marketing. The program is financially self-sustaining thanks to federal reimbursements for the meals of those students who qualify for free or reduced price services.
PSI: How did you determine which schools will host the program?
KC: The determination on the schools was based on free or reduced lunches. The schools selected have 80% or more of students receiving free or reduced lunch.
PSI: What type of training have you provided for teachers or other staff to help the program run smoothly?
KC: This year we held a training session for 20 teachers and school staff on July 25 at the Knox County Education Association office. The training was led by Annelise Cohon of the National Education Association’s Health and Information Network. The training included curriculum, explanation of the program and way to implement the program in your classroom. The participants were even served breakfast as it would be served in the classroom.
PSI: What are some specific implementation challenges you’ve encountered, and how have you addressed them?
KC: Some schools were initially resisted to try Breakfast in the Classroom. Teachers were worried about breakfast taking away instructional time, plus issues of clean up. After speaking to our Knox County Education Association representatives from those buildings, we were able to pinpoint the problems and work to solve them. It is important for us to let teachers know we will listen and help solve problems as they arise.
PSI: What advice would you give districts hoping to bring this program to their schools?
KC: The advice I would give is to listen to the concerns of the teachers and school staff. Also, the grant needs to be completed as soon as possible so the equipment will arrive on time for the beginning of the school year.
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- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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