Noticing that students who ate breakfast before class through their meal program were more alert, school in Arizona looked to make breakfast the norm for all students.
By Carol Chong
For years, the nutrition services department at Salk Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona, served a morning meal to roughly 175 students who made it to school in time to get to the cafeteria before class. Staff noticed that students who participated were more energetic and focused in the classroom later in the day, leading them to wonder: what if we could offer breakfast to even more of our 650 students?
While working with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, school leaders began to take a close look at current health policies and practices to see what they were doing well and what they could improve. Surveys of the student body revealed that students were, in fact, interested in eating breakfast at school, but felt that they didn’t have enough time to get through the line before the first bell. And when faced with a choice about how to spend those minutes, they often opted for extra time to play with their friends instead.
Starting in the spring of 2015, Salk Elementary piloted a breakfast in the classroom program, giving all students the opportunity to start the day with a healthy meal, no matter what time they arrive at school. A little over a year later, they’re feeding around 575 students every day – a 229 percent increase in participation!
Now, students are enjoying a healthy, well-rounded meal that kick-starts their learning, such as fruit, low-fat milk and an egg sandwich. Staff have noticed better attendance, less tardiness, fewer visits to the nurse's office and more focused learners in the classroom as a result.
Physical education teacher Kerri Johnson pointed out that, while the school is proud of how many more students they’ve been able to reach, they still face challenges. For instance, students prefer to have whole fruit cut into pieces, which can be time consuming, but increases the likelihood that students will finish their all of their healthy meal.
“Breakfast in the classroom is important to ensure we meet the needs of our students with a healthy body that is ready to learn,” said Kerri. “Although breakfast in the classroom may seem like ‘just one more thing to do’ ‒ we know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why would we not give this opportunity to all students?”
Other schools in Mesa Unified School District 4 are following suit, 21 elementary schools are serving breakfast in the classroom, and along with Salk Elementary School, 16 of the district’s schools were named to the Alliance’s 2016 list of America’s Healthiest Schools for their efforts to transform their schools into healthier places for students to learn.
This blog originally appeared on Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry.
The Alliance and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign are working together to harness technical assistance and training opportunities for successful implementation of school breakfast programs after the bell.