A change in the time breakfast is served in the Cawood Elementary School cafeteria is allowing students to sleep later, arrive at school later and not be hungry prior to lunch.
Principal Melinda Sergent says the new concept is popular among the student body, parents and school staff.
Most importantly, Sergent and the district’s School Food Services staff say that participation has grown tremendously over the past year, drawing the attention of United States Department of Agriculture administrators.
“Changing the way our breakfast is run has been the best change that I have made as a principal,” said Sergent. “Our parents, students and teachers love it. Our students are sleeping later, getting on the buses later, and eating later which means they are staying full until lunch. Before, a lot of our students were hungry well before lunch which made learning difficult.”
With the change, students arrive at school later and come to the lunchroom with their classmates after the morning bell rings. Time is built into the school day to allow for this change.
Prior to the change students arrived about 7:10 a.m. and were served breakfast until around 7:45. Now, students arrive at 7:35 a.m., about the time breakfast previously ended. All students have been served and are back in class by 8:40 a.m. The rotation begins with the younger students arriving in the cafeteria first, while the older students being their daily studies awaiting their time to eat.
“Now, our students are not hungry as early, so they are more focused in their classes and better equipped to learn. This change has also made a difference in discipline rates. Discipline has decreased dramatically now that students get off the bus and go directly to their class. They then proceed to breakfast with their class at their assigned times,” Sergent said. “Breakfast runs very similar to the lunch program.”
According to Sean Monahan, senior program specialist in Special Nutrition Programs for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service for the Southeast Region, schools implementing the change and seeing significant breakfast participation growth are “to be commended.”
Monahan visited during National School Breakfast Week to see firsthand what is taking place at Cawood. Following the visit he complimented the “buy in” of all involved to mark the high participation rate, but also was pleased not to see “plate waste” by students.
Nationally, the rate for students participating in the breakfast program is less than 30 percent. At Cawood elementary, the rate rose from 58 percent to 92 percent from March 2015 to March 2016.
Monahan called the jump “amazing,” adding breakfast after the bell normally has about a 60 percent participation rate.
“If a district of this size can figure it out, then there is no reason other districts can’t do the same,” he said.
“That is a testimonial to what they are doing here,” he said. As a result of his visit, Monahan said it is possible that the school’s change will be submitted as a “Best Practice” for other schools to follow.
Harlan County School Food Services Director Jack Miniard said he was pleased the district was recognized nationally and selected for the visit by Monahan during National School Breakfast Week.
“Cawood elementary, one of three county schools that participate in ‘breakfast after the bell,’ was visited by a USDA representative and commended for averaging 91 percent participation at breakfast. This is nearly a 35 percent increase from the previous year.”
Miniard said “The superintendent, board and principals of Harlan County are working together to see that every child has a nutritional, healthy environment to learn in. This proves that when given the opportunity, children will participate in school breakfast which is an important tool for academic success. “
Monahan said good nutrition is critical to a child’s overall success. A well-balanced breakfast offers an important nutritional foundation, ensuring students have the energy and nutrition they need to thrive.
He said a role of the USDA is to make certain students have access to safe, healthy food.
Information provided by the USDA cites studies showing children who skip breakfast are at an academic disadvantage. Students with access to school breakfast tend to have a better overall diet and a lower body mass index than nonparticipants.
The research also shows students who consume breakfast make greater strides on standardized tests, pay attention and behave better in class, and are less frequently tardy, absent or visiting the nurse’s office.
Evarts Elementary School implemented the program several years ago. Black Mountain Elementary School began the program this year.