We met Lori Watson Sanders when she started sharing with us on the School Nutrition Foundation Facebook page. Her enthusiasm for breakfast-in-the-classroom is inspiring, but it’s her big heart and affection for her students that really grabbed our attention. Lori calls her kids “her babies,” and her school nutrition staff “her ladies.” Lori didn’t just sit down for an interview with us—she invited us into her school, her world, and her heart. Her story is a true example of how dedication, and drive to do the right thing, can motivate others.
Lori is a Field Coordinator for Floyd County School Nutrition, and Johnson Elementary School Manager. Let’s get to know her, and her breakfast-in-the-classroom program.
Beyond Breakfast: Lori, tell us your breakfast-in-the-classroom story. Where did you get the idea, and why is the program so important to you?
It started about two years ago, when a video came out showing breakfast-in-the-classroom. My principal at the time wasn’t interested, but when our new principal came in I went to her with the idea. I said, “I want to do breakfast-in-the-classroom, and I want to get universal free breakfast in our elementary schools next year.”
My ladies and I brought all the information to the principal, showed the video to the teachers, and did a trial run in the classroom. The teachers loved it, and the principal said, “Let’s go for it.” I started talking to my PTO (parent-teacher organization) about the rolling coolers [needed for delivery] and they got those for us. For the first two weeks of school we tried out five or six different ways [of delivery] until we found the right one.
We go out and pack milk, juice, fruit, into the coolers and put hot entrees in bags and put those onto the cooler, and the kids or a teacher comes down, gets their cooler, and carries it to their classroom.
Beyond Breakfast: Lori, let’s talk a little about stakeholder engagement. How did you get stakeholders “on board” with breakfast-in-the-classroom?
Initially the feedback from stakeholders was not as positive as it is now; we still have some teachers who are not happy with [BIC]. For the most part, feedback from teachers cited concerns about rodents and bugs, too much going on [in the classroom], spills, and taking away from instruction time.
In talking to some of my teachers [success is about] getting the routine down, teaching the kids to own their own space and do their own thing, and clean up after themselves. The two teachers in the beginning, the ones who really fought me, they love it now. It doesn’t cost [the teachers] any more instruction time.
Beyond Breakfast: Can you give us an example of an early challenge you had to come, maybe during the implementation phase?
In the beginning the teachers wanted the trash picked up more quickly because of some smells in the classroom, [so we worked out a system] where the trash would be placed outside the door. The custodian comes by, picks it up, and puts it out. The biggest issues I had were worries about spills in the classroom. I had a parent—who was also a sub—stand up in a meeting and she said, “Now [my kids] take their plates to the sink for me. Breakfast in the classroom taught [them] those skills.” If you help the kids take ownership of their own space in the classroom, you won’t have as many spills. If you give them ownership, they will clean up better, and be more careful. And the teachers say that’s the truth!
I told everyone in the beginning that success would be all about how we approach those challenges. If we go into this with negative attitudes, it’s not going to work because the kids are going to know it. But if we go into the classrooms with excitement, the kids will be excited and they will do it the right way.
The first year everyone had to eat in the classroom but this year we gave the kindergarten classes the option—one stayed in the classroom, three opted to go to the lunch room and eat out of their coolers in there. Within one week they were back in the classroom!
Beyond Breakfast: How about principals and administrators? How do they respond to breakfast-in-the-classroom?
Dr. Plunkett—my superintendent of schools—loves breakfast-in-the-classroom—loves, loves, loves it! I went into her office one day and asked her about it and she said, “I do not understand why other schools do not pick this up and run with this. When my children were in school I would have loved a program like this, where I could have not had to worry about getting them up fifteen minutes earlier to eat breakfast. My kids would have loved this program—my son wouldn’t eat in the morning, so I had to get him up even 15 minutes earlier to get him to sit for a while so he would get hungry and eat some breakfast.”
Dr. Plunkett is retiring in sixteen days. We hope the new superintendent will be [interested in BIC expansion]. I’m the only school in our district doing breakfast-in-the-classroom.
Beyond Breakfast: Lori, you have such a passion for the program. What inspired you to take such a personal stake in bringing breakfast-in-the-classroom to your school?
We do a summer feeding program, also. When you see your babies that go to your school running down a hill, on rocks, with no shoes on, in their pajamas, to get lunch you know you need to feed your babies. You have to do whatever you need to do to feed your babies.
There is something I always say to my ladies: You never know, you may be the only smile a child sees during the day. In the classroom teachers are good to them, but teachers have to correct them. When they come through the lunch line—that may be the one time that they can look up and see someone smiling at them, and know that it’s going to be okay; that it’s going to be a friendly day. I tell my ladies all the time—smiles are contagious! If you smile, the kids are going to smile no matter what. You never know what they are going through from the time they get up in the morning—at home, what their parent or family situation is like. Some kids who are struggling at home, struggling at school—your smile could be the smile that makes their day.
Read Part 2 of our interview with Lori, where we discuss the new meal patterns, breakfast-in-the-classroom resources, and what’s next for her BIC program.