Happy, healthy children are a priority for JoAnne Hammermaster, the Health & Wellness Chair of the Georgia PTA. Though new to her current position, having started in July 2015, JoAnne has a passion for feeding children; prior to moving to Georgia, she helped start the Virginia-based non-profit Real Food for Kids.
“At Real Food for Kids, we try to advocate for better quality food in schools, and that had a lot of facets,” explained JoAnne, by telephone. “Through that work, I came in [to Georgia PTA] with a lot of knowledge of how school food works, and that’s been incredibly helpful in my work to promote breakfast-in-the-classroom.”
Encouraging schools to implement breakfast-in-the-classroom is about helping children achieve their highest potential, said JoAnne, and it’s her job to communicate that importance to parents—and other stakeholders—to gain acceptance for the program. This can be a slow process, but building relationships is the key to success.
“We promote breakfast-in-the-classroom because we know it’s important for kids. It can take a long time to educate people on why breakfast is important, but from a PTA standpoint BIC is a great opportunity to have a program you can point to and say, ‘Look at what we did here; this program makes a direct impact on academic achievement, on health and well-being, on absenteeism.’ That’s a big part of my messaging—this program has a positive impact, and that’s what we all want.”
Her experiences at Real Food for Kids helped prepare Hammermaster for her work interacting with various stakeholders in school foodservice. Whether she’s talking to foodservice directors about assessments and delivery models, or parents regarding breakfast menus, the critical piece of her communication is the importance of breakfast on young learners.
“You may find resistance, but when you start to forge those relationships you get the process started,” said JoAnne. “It might take longer than a month or two, but that’s where PTA support can become so important. In some schools it might not be on the principal’s radar, or the director might feel like they can’t handle another program, but it’s important to find that champion who can go in and advocate for [BIC].”
It’s not just about preparing kids to learn; breakfast-in-the-classroom is an essential piece of the puzzle in bridging the hunger gap, as well.
“Making sure all kids have access to food is my main driver,” explained JoAnne. “We know that kids, especially in the schools we target with these programs, come from more impoverished backgrounds and we have to make sure they have a healthy start. We’re making sure children have access to healthy meals, so they can be happy, healthy, and strong.”
The popularity of the program has skyrocketed, and now it’s time to encourage those districts that want breakfast-in-the-classroom and give them the tools they need for a successful, sustainable program. Turning toward 2016, Hammermaster says the potential for BIC to impact students’ lives will drive her efforts to create more “BIC champions” at every level—principals, parents, teachers, and even school board members.
“I truly believe that if you have breakfast-in-the-classroom set up in a systematic way—and we have lots of models now for how to set it up—that it will help you, and it will be a positive thing for students and stakeholders.”