When it comes to serving school breakfast, Nebraska has some room for improvement. The state is ranked 48th out of 51 in FRAC’s most recent School Breakfast Scorecard, up one spot from the previous year, feeding 43 free/reduced price (FRP) students in the School Breakfast Program for every 100 FRP students in the School Lunch Program. One way to improve access to and participation in school breakfast is by implementing a breakfast-in-the-classroom program, and as one of our ten target states, we invite Nebraska stakeholders to take a closer look at the program—and our Partners for Breakfast-in-the-Classroom grant opportunity.
We recently sat down with Nebraska Appleseed Program Manager Eric Savaiano to learn how they are working to combat food insecurity in the state of Nebraska, and how breakfast-in-the-classroom can be an integral tool in that fight. Step one, says Savaiano, is to encourage more schools to take advantage of Community Eligibility (CEP).
“We feel that the Community Eligibility Provision has been under used in Nebraska. We have been be working with districts, the Department of Education, FRAC, and local advocacy organizations to increase participation.”
A second strategy to raise awareness and encourage Nebraskans to eat school breakfast is a “Breakfast Challenge.”
“We have some funding to do a Breakfast Challenge in western Nebraska,” said Savaiano. “Twelve small schools will compete to win prizes for increasing breakfast participation in innovative ways. It’s new for us, but we’re excited about it, and we have some great ideas flowing that might not have without this incentive.”
Savaiano is working to promote alternative breakfast models, educating administrators about how they can make big-system changes to positively affect student performance.
“In Nebraska, we don’t have a great history of participation in programs like summer food, school breakfast,” explained Savaiano. “Our breakfast participation rates are [low]. We are doing our best to inform administrators, and make it as easy as possible for them to make those big-system changes.”
Although low sign-up rates for CEP have been cause for concern, Savaiano says that Nebraska Appleseed is working to improve their ranking—49th in takeup of CEP out of 51.
“We’ve identified the main barrier,” he said. “When [schools] take up CEP, they have to switch their poverty measure from the free and reduced price lunch application to something else. In Nebraska, we have not taken the steps to ensure schools will not lose funding in other areas if they take up the CEP program. That’s a big issue and we need some champions to take it on—hopefully our legislators, the Department of Education, and others who can help us resolve these issues and feed more kids.”
Convincing administrators to make these system changes—whether CEP or BIC—is about early and ongoing stakeholder engagement, says Savaiano.
“We see hesitance at different levels,” he explained. “At the administrative level we talk to directors and finance folks who have concerns about convincing principals and staff to make the system changes. Principals worry about the changes in regard to teachers, and what will be required there. When you talk to teachers, you hear about the need [for breakfast].”
Making the process as inclusive as possible, clearly defining roles, and addressing problems as they arise can make the transition to breakfast-in-the-classroom easier.
“Getting folks in the same room to discuss these things is key. We do our best to share resources, [connect them] with people who have already made the change, and provide best practices. We get the NSEA [Nebraska State Education Association] reps in—they’ve been great partners in this outreach. The personal relationships we are building give us a foundation, and the authoritative research and health benefits [of school breakfast] is helping us convince folks.”
Are you a director or other school stakeholder working in Nebraska? If you think your school or district could benefit from breakfast-in-the-classroom, visit the Partners for BIC website to learn more about our grant and to begin the application process today.