Bringing Breakfast to the Classroom in Idaho

Colleen Fillmore (Ph.D, RDN, LD, SNS) has served as USDA Idaho Child Nutrition Director for thirteen years, having got her start in USDA programs in Omaha, Nebraska, in the early 1980s. Over the course of her career, Fillmore says, she “pretty much saw the birth of the [school] breakfast program.”

“Breakfast was just barely getting implemented,” she recalled. “It seems like something that has always been there, though it hasn’t been.

“When I was a director in Iowa I remember calling every single principal at the end of the year to find out how their school year went, and everyone loved the breakfast program—except for one. He said to me, ‘I want this breakfast program out of the building! It’s the responsibility of the parents. What are you going to do next, serve supper?’” Fillmore chuckled at the memory. “Guess what,” she continued. “Now we serve supper! It really goes to show how these programs have expanded.”

In Idaho, Fillmore says breakfast has taken a foothold; Provision 2 and Community Eligibility have helped improve breakfast participation, and implementing alternative delivery models has also been successful at driving up participation. A statewide administrative survey to districts on marketing and access to school breakfast revealed the “usual suspect” list of barriers.

“We’ve heard them before, it’s nothing new—busing, drop-off, the typical challenges that all states have,” said Fillmore. “Idaho has implemented several [breakfast] programs over the years; grants for “Second Chance,” Grab-n-Go, breakfast-in-the-classroom. We still have traditional breakfast service, but we’re happy to see increases in these other areas.” (Idaho was recently ranked 17th on FRAC’s Annual School Breakfast Scorecard.)

The importance of eating breakfast isn’t new either, says Fillmore, but it does seem like more people are “getting it” when it comes to school breakfast, specifically. Today’s students face a great deal of academic pressure, which when combined with food insecurity further underscores the need to improve access to breakfast to facilitate learning.

“Think about what is taught during the school day, those important topics, to students who maybe haven’t eaten since the night before,” said Fillmore. “Trying to learn those difficult topics is difficult when [students] are hungry.”

When it comes to navigating the choppy waters of a new or expanding program, Fillmore recommends staying tuned to School Nutrition Association, and leveraging their resources.

“I’m an SNS and have been in SNA for years. SNA certainly helps us filter [new regulations], and gives us the latest news on what’s going on legislatively.”

If you’re working on implementing or expanding breakfast-in-the-classroom in Idaho, make sure you reach out to your state agency for help and resources. One of Fillmore’s favorite strategies to recommend is a school breakfast pilot program.

“When we can pilot [breakfast in the classroom] and show other teachers and administrators how successful it is, that seems to really help,” she advised. “They see someone else doing it, and hear those positive things, and then they are more willing to try it.”

Another successful strategy that has paid off is combining breakfast in the classroom with Community Eligibility.

“One of the best studies was sort of by accident,” recalled Fillmore. “One of our districts had CEP and breakfast in the classroom, when one building decided to [stop] breakfast in the classroom—and the participation just plummeted. It’s kind of an accidental research project, but it turned out to be a success story in the end and helped them realize [the importance] of breakfast in the classroom.”

Finally, the state agency can help connect you with others from across Idaho who have experience with BIC (and/or CEP, Provision 2, etc.), and offer their own expertise to help you gain a 360-degree perspective.

“We do monthly webinars, and each one has success stories with featured districts,” said Fillmore. “It’s beneficial to see another building or district doing something successful. [We] travel all over, seeing the challenges and successes that people have, and I think that’s the best way to leverage your state agency—ask about the pros and cons.

“We’re very hopeful that as time goes on and people hear more about [breakfast in the classroom], we’ll see growth,” continued Fillmore. “If you can sit and talk about concerns and work through them, there is always a way to work things out.”

Learn more about how to apply for a breakfast-in-the-classroom grant in Idaho, and visit the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom online.

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