The lumps were quickly smoothed out of the school breakfast program at Pomona Elementary School in Montrose. Shortly after offering all 411 students free breakfast each day in their first class, many teachers, leaders and custodians who had their doubts were converts.
The biggest reason was better student behavior.
“We have seen a decline in morning behavior issues and a rise in our school’s academic data,” Principal Chris Braaten said. “When the kids are well fed and their stomachs are full they are able to concentrate better in class.”
The logistics worked themselves out as well. Kindergarten teachers poked straws through the foil lids on juice containers to cut down on spills. Custodians double bagged the trash cans in the classrooms so teachers could pull out the inner bag of breakfast trash and leave in the hall for pick up. Not wanting to lose a precious minute of instruction time, teachers modified first-period lessons to focus on daily language instruction while the kids ate.
A big part of the success is the all-student access. There’s no stigma attached because no one knows whose food is covered by a grant or paid for by a federal nutrition program. About 58 percent of Pomona Elementary School’s students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch.
For parent Kaye Hotsenpillar, breakfast offered to her second-grader in the classroom was a relief. Buying food isn’t an issue, but getting the kids out the door fully fed can be.
“My husband and I can afford breakfast and we try to make our children eat before they leave,” she said, “But to make a child eat at 6:45 a.m. is really tough.”
Now breakfast at school is part of her daughter’s normal routine. Grace isn’t famished by the time lunch comes in case she didn’t have time to eat at home.
The school has a new focus on improving nutrition by making meals from scratch and offering a greater variety of foods, Braaten said. The sausage biscuit is popular, but so are bagels with fruit, cereals with milk and hard boiled eggs and toast. There’s even a homemade breakfast bar that the kids scarf up. The only thing the school doesn’t serve is pancakes and syrup after learning from experience that it doesn’t go over well in the carpeted classrooms.
With just a bit of working out the kinks, the service is now a part of the school culture.
“Many of our students would not get any sort of meal until lunch without this program,” Braaten said. “The quality of what is served for the price restraints is fantastic and the kids really do enjoy the breakfast foods.”
This guest blog post was written and provided by Tara Manthey, director of communications for Colorado Children’s Campaign.