As the cliché goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If schools want to encourage kids to eat that meal, it’s important to serve it outside of the cafeteria, according to a new publication from the American Association of School Administrators.
AASA worked with four urban school districts to design and implement alternative breakfast programs, meaning that breakfast was served in places other than the cafeteria. In the latest issue of its publication School Governance & Leadership, AASA studies the successes of the four districts in increasing breakfast participation and the challenges administrators faced, as well as offering tips for those looking to bring similar programs to their schools.
“This publication showcases the culture change that alternative school breakfast can bring to a school district,” says Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA. “There is a leadership aspect to making this change that underscores the hard work of the superintendent and food service director, which is discussed inside. And of course, children have more opportunity to eat breakfast at school when it is served in the classroom or even the hallway – as seen in the big jumps in average daily participation at all four districts.”
Breakfast has been shown to benefit students tremendously in a number of different areas, including improving school performance and attendance, installing healthier eating habits in children, helping kids maintain a healthy weight and reducing discipline programs on campus. But many students skip breakfast in the morning, due to a variety of factors, from lack of time to not feeling hungry to even social stigma surrounding breakfast and peer pressure.
Although each district faced different challenges, all four districts increased student participation in school breakfast. Brentwood Union Free School District in New York, for example, saw a 29 percent increase in school breakfast participation from September 2011 to November 2012 after it began serving breakfast in the classroom in elementary schools and installed “Grab ‘n’ Go” stations in secondary schools.
Cincinnati Public Schools focused specifically on increasing breakfast participation in secondary schools, as 58 percent of elementary schoolers already ate breakfast on campus each day. Officials installed breakfast kiosks and vending machines near student hangouts, allowing students to obtain a fully reimbursable breakfast while still mingling with friends. The district saw an 18 percent increase in breakfast participation.
Administrators argue that the key to achieving success is for everyone in the school environment to get onboard with the breakfast plan, and for everybody to have a place at the table. Students, for example, say that placing vending machines in places where students congregate is key, while food service staff recommend patience.
“It’s not for our benefit, it’s for the children. It sounds like a lot. It’s a lot of work for everybody,” one staff member says in the publication. “But it works itself out. Everybody working together, it makes it successful.”
Along with highlighting the successes, the publication also debunks myths about school breakfast, including that it leads to a loss in instruction time (well-planned programs can actually achieve the opposite, along with helping kids focus more) or that serving breakfast outside the cafeteria will “lead to pesky critters through the school” (easy solutions can be found to ensure proper clean-up).
“I was surprised by this, but there are now better relationships between teachers and students,” a teacher from the Syracuse City School District says in the report. “When you dine together, a better bond between staff and students is developed.”