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Breakfast now available in middle school classrooms - Odessa American: Education

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Breakfast now available in middle school classrooms

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Posted: Saturday, September 3, 2016 5:30 am

Although he was a skeptic at first, Texas history teacher Ronnie Neal says the new breakfast in the classroom initiative for middle schools has helped students concentrate better and injects some calm into the day.

Breakfast has been offered in elementary classrooms for years. The staff at Ector Middle School recognized the need for this in the spring of 2016 and helped pilot the program, Director of School Nutrition Katy Taylor said.

“This summer, each of the other middle schools requested breakfast in the classroom for the 2016-2017 school year,” Taylor said. “The staff has recognized how important it is for our students to have a complete, nutritious breakfast to be ready to learn.”

The School Nutrition staff prepares and packages the breakfasts for each classroom.  At most schools, designated students are responsible for picking up their classroom’s breakfast in the cafeteria and delivering it to the classroom, Taylor said in an email. 

Teachers use a roster to tell School Nutrition which students ate breakfast. Students return what is left to the cafeteria. Trash bags are provided each day for clean-up and placed in the hallway for pick-up, she said.

She anticipated that about 70 percent of students would eat breakfast when it was served in the classroom, as opposed to about 10 percent of students when it was served in the cafeteria.

Each campus set its own schedule for breakfast in the classroom. Taylor said most campuses have worked it into a “homeroom” time, so it doesn’t interfere with instructional time. Breakfast items at Bonham can vary from Pop Tarts to cereal and mini pancakes, depending on the day.

Research nationwide has shown that eating breakfast at school has academic, behavioral, and health benefits such as better test scores, better attendance, better behavior and fewer trips to the nurse’s office, Taylor said. 

Each day, a meal consists of a whole grain entrée, milk, whole fruit, and 100 percent fruit juice.  “The milk and entrée help to contribute toward lasting fullness, and the juice and whole fruit provide the most usable source of energy to the brain.  This combination of items follows federal standards for nutrition including calorie, fat and sodium restriction,” Taylor said.

Most of the middle schools are serving breakfast during second period. Many pre-teens and teens aren’t hungry first thing in the morning and are “ravenous” by mid-morning,” Taylor said. Taylor added that secondary schools nationwide have implemented second period breakfast with “great success.”

Neal, who teaches at Bonham Middle School, said he wasn’t anticipating the idea of breakfast in the middle school would be successful, but he quickly changed his opinion. Although he said he wouldn’t necessarily say it was breakfast, Neal said he’s noticed students are more attentive in class.

“I was anticipating a lot of mess, a lot of confusion and a lot of trying to get the students to settle back down during second period because they go in the first of their second period,” Neal said. “But it’s turned out to work very, very well. The kids have responded very well to it. The good thing about it that I see is we have a lot of students that go to Permian (High School) for sports in the morning, either golf or swimming.”

Eighth-graders also had football practice in the morning before school. By the time they were released or the buses arrived back from Permian, the students didn’t have time to eat breakfast.

“… With it being now during second period, they’re all back and in class by then so everybody’s getting their breakfast. Plus we don’t seem to have the chaos we had in the cafeteria last year for breakfast. And crazy enough, the students actually seem to be eating the food more that they’re in the classroom,” Neal said.

Last year, when breakfast was available in the cafeteria, Neal said the students seemed to use food more for ammunition than nourishment. “This year for some reason since the kids are eating during the beginning of second period, we’re not having students throw their stuff away. They’re actually completing their meals,” he said.

Neal said the students don’t seem to be “as wild per se” as they were last year.

“You don’t have a lot of kids wanting to eat snacks in the classroom,” Neal said. He added that snacks in the classroom aren’t allowed, but teachers noticed students trying to eat during passing periods or trying to sneak snacks into classes.

“As far as I know from teachers I’ve talked to, that’s not an issue this year,” Neal said. “We don’t have any black market sales of chips and everything going on in the hallway. It’s cut all that down,” he added.

Bonham Principal Mark Ferrer said breakfast in the classroom has been a good decision because “Every study shows that when a child eats early in the day and has a meal, their behavior, as well as their academics improve,” Ferrer said. “Our teachers have really taken to it.”

He added that the 10-minute meal time also gives the teachers and students time to get to know each other and build “those positive relationships.” Breakfast may also help campus attendance, which stood at about 870 on Sept. 1.

Fourteen-year-old Bonham eighth-grader Nathaniel Clark was tapped to get breakfast for his classmates in the morning and takes whatever’s left back to the cafeteria when everyone is done.

Clark said he sometimes eats breakfast before school and sometimes at school, but it helps to know it’s available. He added that he likes having breakfast in class because there are just a few people and they all know each other.

Taylor said the School Nutrition budget for 2016-2017 had been submitted before the request for breakfast in the classroom, so a budget amendment will be sent to the school board to account for the increased participation.

She said she anticipates the budget increase will be more than $500,000. The exact amount will be calculated at the beginning of October, so her department has a better projection of participation for the year, Taylor added.

The additional participation will result in more revenue from the federal government and this revenue will be put toward covering the cost of food for these meals, Taylor said.

She said her department won’t have to hire any more personnel, just adjusting schedules to adapt to the increased participation. Taylor said no one is coming in earlier.

Breakfast is provided for free to all students in ECISD, Taylor said.  Teachers who administer it also provided breakfast at no charge. 

Taylor said she still encourages all parents to apply for meal benefits as this impacts School Nutrition and campus funding. Food service is self-funded through a combination of local, state and federal funds, she said.

On average for the first week of school, the food cost per breakfast at the middle schools was 91 cents.  This does not account for labor or non-food supplies like napkins, trash bags, or transport materials, Taylor said.

The 2016-2017 School Nutrition budget is $16,122,000.  

How much more does it cost to provide breakfast in the classroom to all middle school students?

Breakfast in the classroom has a slightly higher food cost per meal and a slightly lower labor cost per meal versus a traditional breakfast model, Taylor said. Pre-packaged breakfast items cost more by a few cents, but the increase in participation results in a lower labor cost per meal, she added.

Labor cost is not something that is calculated on a breakfast vs. lunch basis, she said. Total, we anticipate a labor cost of $6.8 million for the 2016-2017 school year. This cost is expected to cover more than 6.2 million meals including breakfast, lunch, and a la carte items, Taylor said.

Breakfast in the classroom is an ongoing expense.  “We anticipate spending $2.35 million on food for breakfast for the 2016-2017 school year. However, this is an estimate only,” Taylor said. 

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