Making Breakfast in the Classroom Work in Grand Island Public Schools, Nebraska

When it comes to moving breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom, there are a lot of moving parts—literally and figuratively! In addition to working out the delivery method for getting food to the classroom (Line service to-go? Grab-and-Go kiosks? Direct delivery?), it’s important to gather stakeholder support for the program–this means engaging teachers, administrators, your staff, the maintenance staff, your students, and their parents.

Strong stakeholder support and a Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant were the keys to helping Grand Island Public Schools’ director of nutrition services Kris Spellman implement a breakfast-in-the-classroom program.

“I heard about the grant, and presented the idea to the high school principal,” recalled Spellman. “We didn’t quite know how we would go about it, but he’s all for doing what we can to support student learning, including breakfast.”

Spellman presented the idea of BIC to school stakeholders, including teachers and principals, and then let the idea percolate.

“Breakfast-in-the-classroom was not a quick, “let’s do this!” kind of thing,” said Spellman. “We gave teachers and the principal some time to think about it. Once I reached out to the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom we got in touch with Eric Saviano at Nebraska Appleseed (read our interview with Eric), and we had so much support from them. Eric was in contact throughout, and came to visit a few times, too.”

Moving breakfast to the classroom means a lot of adjustments for school nutrition staff, but Spellman says her team was ready for the challenge.

“Everyone on my staff was all-for breakfast-in-the-classroom, so I didn’t have to sell it at all,” said Spellman. “Our administration was totally behind the program, and so were we. It was a big undertaking in terms of the number of doors where kids enter, our equipment needs, marketing. It was great to have the grant money because we [needed items] like a milk cooler and a serving station for each location where we wanted to capture kids. Without the grant I don’t think we could have made the switch to BIC.”

Spellman knew marketing would be crucial to the success of her new BIC program; fortunately, the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant includes funding for marketing materials.

“The marketing piece, that’s been great,” said Spellman. “We got these brightly colored t-shirts with a velociraptor on them and they say, “If a lunch lady serves breakfast is she still a lunch lady?” We also had a media event with newspapers and a TV station—that was fun! Our CFO and [other stakeholders] were there, and everyone was so supportive.”

There are other strategies Spellman recommends to promote breakfast-in-the-classroom, such as giving teachers a free breakfast to eat.

“It’s a small thing that makes a huge difference,” she said. “It helps with getting teacher support, but it also allows the staff to model behaviors and hopefully create a classroom culture where everyone feels taken care of—where everyone realizes how important breakfast is for learning.”

Custodial staff also showed their support for breakfast-in-the-classroom—the head custodian was ready to tackle any challenge that might impede implementation.

“The custodial staff was a really supportive part of our team,” said Spellman. “They will do anything to support our students, and the head custodian at the senior high—well, he’s not a big complainer! The people I work with don’t worry about doing a few extra things if they are for the betterment of our kids. One piece of equipment we offered to help them was a large, rolling garbage bin—that was about $400—and that can go around as they collect the trash placed in the hallway.

Prior to implementing grab-and-go, Grand Island High School was serving approximately 300 breakfasts per day. Once grab-and-go kiosks were placed at student entrances, service jumped to about 800 per day, and the growth continues.

“We didn’t have serving carts ready to go on day one, but we started by advertising ‘FREE BREAKFAST’ and the participation increased,” recalled Spellman. Once we started with the carts at the doors, we saw that big jump. As for the students who aren’t participating yet, it might be a bit of a cultural thing—they’re either ‘too cool’ to stop at the breakfast cart, or maybe there is some of that lingering stigma. I think as time goes on, that will fade as everyone gets used to breakfast being available. I’m excited about our increase, and we’re going to go forward trying to capture even more students to get them excited about breakfast-in-the-classroom.”

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