Fueling success with after-the-bell breakfast in Adams County school district

IMG_5044The morning was still engulfed in darkness, yet inside Adams City High School there was movement and chatter in the kitchen as staff prepared the day’s breakfast—low-fat milk, an apple and a healthy granola. While the school began to bustle with activity as more students arrived, members from a student club, one by one, stopped in the cafeteria to wheel away coolers filled with food to their designated classrooms. Then the first bell rang, clearing the hallways and leading the teenagers to their desks where they could fuel their school day with a nutritious breakfast in the classroom.

Instead of the traditional method of providing breakfast before the bell in the cafeteria, Adams County School District 14 (Adams 14) in Commerce City offers each student breakfast in the classroom at their elementary, middle and high schools. It all began when Cindy Veney, the district’s food and nutrition services manager, observed a seemingly common occurrence with before-the-bell breakfast.

“I saw two little sisters arrive to school late, through no fault of their own. They ran to the cafeteria to get breakfast and were then told to hurry up and finish before the first bell rang,” said Cindy, who led the implementation of Breakfast in the Classroom district-wide. “One sister stuffed a bagel in her mouth and ran off to class, and the younger sister took sips of milk, crying, as she walked down the hallway. I knew right then that it had to change. We could either find a way or create a way to more effectively feed our kids.”

IMG_5017Adams 14 piloted Breakfast in the Classroom at one of their schools in 2010. On the first day, school nurses were surprised by the lack of missing-nutrition complaints like stomach aches, lightheadedness and headaches. Teachers immediately noticed a difference in student behavior and alertness. Due to its success, the program has expanded district-wide with more than 38,000 breakfasts served each week to every first-period classroom.

When offering before-the-bell breakfast, the district only had a 30 percent participation rate in their school breakfast program. Now, more than 87 percent of their students district-wide eat breakfast after the bell, with 1,200 of their 1,700 high school students participating. The academic and behavioral differences have been noticeable, too.

“Several principals have seen a decrease in behavior problems,” shared Cindy. “Teachers report students are calmer; school nurses and teachers don’t need to keep a stash of food for hungry kids; and parents support the program, too.”

Cindy started this program after witnessing two young girls unable to get the needed nutrition in the morning to fuel their brain, stop their rumbling bellies and set them up for success in the classroom—all because of how breakfast was served. Now, with Breakfast in the Classroom, Adams 14 principals, teachers, nurses, administrators and other staff know firsthand the benefits of an after-the-bell serving model for their schools and, more importantly, their students.

“If students are hungry, they are not going to learn,” said Cindy. “There are pending circumstances why some children don’t get breakfast before school each day, so why not give them all the opportunity to start their day with a healthy meal and be better prepared learn?”

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