At F.C. Hammond Middle School Educators and Administrators Embrace Breakfast-in-the-Classroom

When we sat down to talk about breakfast-in-the-classroom with Greg Tardieu in Alexandria City Public Schools (VA) we got an overview of the grant process, as well as insight into what goes into a successful planning and implementation of a BIC program. Today we’re going to hear from three more ACPS stakeholders: Pierrette Hall, Principal of F.C. Hammond Middle School; Keisha Shirley, sixth grade ELL teacher; and Aurelia Ortiz, Hammond’s sixth grade academic principal. We wanted to hear what the BIC process was like from the perspective of educators and administrators, so we sat down with Hall, Shirley, and Ortiz for our most recent installment of Breakfast in the Classroom Chat.

The first question we had for Hall, Shirley, and Ortiz, was about their initial reaction to the concept of breakfast-in-the-classroom. Were they interested? Excited? Maybe a little skeptical?

“Back in October Greg Tardieu sent me an email and said he wanted to talk to me about a great opportunity, but he didn’t want to tell me in an email—he wanted to tell me in person,” recalled principal Pierrette Hall. “We met and he told me about the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant. When he started sharing our school statistics—the number of kids eating breakfast, and the missed opportunity to get more of them eating—I got excited. There was never any reservations or hesitations. Any big initiative is overwhelming, but when you look at the outcome and the great things that breakfast can produce, it makes all of the hard work easier.”

To Aurelia Ortiz, hunger in the classroom wasn’t news—she, and her colleagues, had been witnessing it for years, keeping granola bars and snacks at the ready for kids who hadn’t had breakfast.

“For years educators have recycled their own money into ensuring our students can focus on academics, and not on a growling stomach or a headache,” said Ortiz. Although there was some early skepticism around the logistics of how to make the jump from feeding 300 to 1500 students in the morning, no one questioned the benefits for the students.

“Anyone in education knows the importance of feeding the mind and the body, and for years it was us keeping food on hand. Breakfast-in-the-classroom allows students to come in, have a good meal, and build social relationships they weren’t having before. It’s worked out well, and we’re very proud we’ve done it here.”

Keisha Shirley echoed Ortiz’s enthusiasm for the program, adding that early staff meetings helped keep stakeholders both assuaged and engaged as they worked out the kinks of how BIC would run at F.C. Hammond.

“A full school staff meeting was held to let us know about the program, and gave us the opportunity to watch videos [on BIC],” said Shirley. “I didn’t [go] but my colleagues could go and talk to teachers in other schools to see how the program has been implemented. They provided a clear timeline of how things would be rolled out. My initial reaction was, ‘This is great’ because I knew my kids—about half—were not having breakfast.”

By working in close conjunction with all stakeholders, addressing concerns turned into an opportunity to refine the program before it was even in place—a best practice Aurelia Ortiz recommends following from the start.

“Front-loading the information [helps]. Our team met many times in advance of practice and kick-off so the roll-out would go smoothly. That “backward planning”—saying ‘this is our end result, how will we achieve it’—results in the least number of bumps in the road.”

This “backward planning” included things like hiring a temporary custodian to help deal with any additional trash, doing a “trial run” delivery with granola bars and juice before rolling out the full program, and thinking ahead about alternatives for students with allergies.

IMG_5751Breakfast-in-the-classroom has also provided opportunities for students to take on leadership roles through ACPS’s ambassador program. Student breakfast ambassadors are chosen to help pick up and deliver meals to the classroom each morning. Not only does this help lighten the load for staff, it also gives students a chance to show leadership skills and take ownership in the program.

“The kids know how to pick up, distribute, and return the bags,” explained Hall. “If there is a problem they know how to troubleshoot it. This has given students leadership opportunities that allow them to learn and think, but also build community, working together with their classmates.”

IMG_5379There have been other, unexpected opportunities in the classroom now that students are eating their breakfast together. When breakfast cleanup became a challenge, Aurelia Ortiz created a teachable  moment for her students.

“We had a learning curve for cleaning up after ourselves, and I had two girls that would go around and collect the trash,” recalled Ortiz. “Another boy then asked why they were going around collecting trash, and this gave us an opportunity for an organic conversation about our classroom community, responsibility, and accountability. The kids made a little [cleanup] roster of duties, which was very empowering—I’m very proud of them.”

Interactions during BIC has also given Ortiz some insight into her students’ home lives.

“A 6th grade student said if they were home eating, they’d be eating alone,” she said. “That struck a chord–many students have working parents and don’t have sit-down meals to talk, and just enjoy the company of another person. For many, that’s what makes eating enjoyable – having someone to enjoy it with.”

Keisha Shirley has also found opportunities to connect with students during breakfast-in-the-classroom, bringing her own breakfast and talking to the kids about whatever subject might arise.

“I look at what they’re eating, they come and see what I’m eating, and we talk about the fact that there is no shame in being hungry,” she said. “We all share that need, to eat, and people out there have provided this grant because breakfast is something we need. We can be humble, and gracious, and work toward our goals.”

To keep things moving in the right direction, Hall—and Ortiz and Shirley—recommend keeping those lines of communication open, and regularly checking in with other stakeholders to continually improve the process.

“Involving stakeholders in the planning, being transparent about the timeline and expectations are very important,” said Hall. “Keep it up after the program [starts] and [checking in] to see if teachers have enough wipes or trash cans. Keep talking and emailing; that follow-up is key.”

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