Participation Jumps 400 Percent at Dater High School with Breakfast in the Classroom

There is nothing like opening the first email of the day to find a breakfast in the classroom success story waiting for you. The Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom team recently received the following email from Jessica Shelly (MBA, SNS, REHS), Food Services Director for Cincinnati Public Schools:

“Now that the school year is over, I wanted to loop you in on the fabulous results that happened at Dater High School thanks to this amazing grant opportunity. We increased breakfast by 400%. That is NOT a typo. 400%. We are now serving almost 50% of the students breakfast each day … at a HIGH SCHOOL …

We cannot thank SNF and all of the sponsoring organizations enough for this awesome opportunity! With your help, we made the difference in the lives of almost 500 kids EACH DAY at Dater High School.”

Shelly went on to share that Dater High School was awarded an Ohio Champion of Breakfast Award – one of only ten in the state of Ohio. Dater HS was also awarded a Rising Star in the Ohio Breakfast “All Stars” Challenge and was the only CPS high school to win at any level. That’s even more exciting when you consider that Dater was the lowest performing CEP high school in the district when they submitted their grant application to the Partners.

Dater High School was honored with yet another award, this one for Principal Steve Sippel. Sippel won the SNA of Ohio “Most Valuable Principal of the Year” Award for his support of this great breakfast program.

Though breakfast participation at the elementary and middle school levels was strong, Shelly noticed a sharp drop-off in breakfast participation among her high schools—especially at Dater—and wondered what she could do to improve her numbers.

“Kids don’t just stop being hungry when they hit the ninth grade, so we knew something was going on there, and we had to figure it out,” said Shelly in a follow-up interview. “We surveyed the kids and what we heard were things like [the cafeteria] being too far away, they couldn’t make it to their lockers, or they were getting to school too late. My goal was to remove those barriers, and I finally found a principal who was willing to try something completely different.”

So Shelly, along with principal Steve Sippel and his school staff, designed “Breakfast Between the Bells.” Not-quite “second chance” breakfast and not quite “breakfast after the bell,” the Dater HS “B3” model allows students to pick up their morning meal from breakfast kiosks during the “passing period” between the first and second bells.

The results were fast, and impressive. Within weeks of implementation breakfast participation went from around 11-12% to 48-49%, and the only thing that changed was the method of delivery, said Shelly.

“We knew we were capturing a lot more students,” she said. “We didn’t change anything other than improving accessibility of the breakfast; the carts reflected what was already being served in our cafeteria.” Some student favorite, classroom-friendly menu items include hot, handheld sandwiches (egg & cheese on a Hawaiian roll, chicken & waffles), and a simple peanut butter and jelly on graham cracker sandwich. The breakfast kiosks offer an additional opportunity to advertise the day’s lunch specials, too, and often feature signage promoting a new menu item on the lunch menu.

To keep breakfast in the classroom sustainable and growing, Shelly says she needs to continue building buy-in from key stakeholders like teachers and principals.

“It takes a lot of peer-to-peer modeling, and I’m hoping to use my principals as “breakfast champions” who can talk to other principals about the benefits of breakfast in the classroom and take away some of the worries they have about the program.

“School breakfast provides for the whole child, and we understand the investment in our children’s health and well-being begins in the morning when they walk in the door. Making sure they are a healthy, contributing member of the community is part of our mission. It starts with us—it starts in our schools.”

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