Breakfast in the Classroom Break: Dan Gorman, Food Service Director, Whitehall District and Montague Area Public Schools, Michigan

No matter where we are, we bump into someone who loves breakfast-in-the-classroom!

We met Dan Gorman, director of both Whitehall District Schools and Montague Area Public Schools, during LAC 2016. In fact, we ran into Dan and his SNA colleagues in the halls of Congress during SNA’s Day on the Hill. When we asked if anyone had a breakfast-in-the-classroom story to share, Dan jumped right in, eager to share his school breakfast story. Equally eager to tell it, we later reached out to Dan, who was not only very generous with his time, but also offered many insights into the power of breakfast-in-the-classroom. Today we’re sharing the first of our two-part interview with Dan.

Beyond Breakfast: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Dan! How was your LAC experience this year? Did you have a good time on The Hill?

Dan Gorman: LAC was an exciting time, and Washington, D.C. is a great city. I went last year and this year, and found I formed a relationship. Last year I invited Congressman Huiziega, and he came to school for lunch. This fall his aide called me and asked about reauthorization. “So, what do you think, Dan?” and I was like, “Whoa!” These are just people trying to do their best. They aren’t experts on everything, so you can really be that resource for them.

BB: So now you’re back at home—tell us about your districts, and yourself.

DG: Montague Area Public Schools and Whitehall District Schools are neighboring school districts, and I’m the food service director for both. My degree is in hotel and restaurant management, and I worked in restaurants for a while first. After I had a family I was looking for something else and found schools. I really walked into it without any prior training or knowledge; that was in 1999.

That’s also my SNA connection—as a new director I just didn’t have a lot of resources or clues how to do anything, so my answer to that was involvement. I was clueless and wide-eyed but I kept showing up until things made more sense, and that’s why I’ve continued the involvement in [SNA]. It’s an important resource for us to have in the state; it gives us a voice. All my knowledge is from the people around me. There are great directors who have strengths I don’t have, even today. They are my go-to people. I’m not the best rule-follower, and I’ll go to meetings and sit next to the rule-followers and get my education. I think those are the things that still make SNA, from a director’s standpoint, powerful for me.

BB: You’ve been in school foodservice since 1999. How has “school breakfast” changed since you first started in school nutrition?

DG: When I first got in to school nutrition we weren’t doing breakfast-in-the-classroom, and there wasn’t that big an emphasis on [breakfast]. I’ve looked at breakfast for a number of years as an opportunity to generate revenue. I’m pretty nutrition and health focused on the kids, and when you look at the data on how important breakfast is for the kids–it’s compelling. I have always focused on reducing the barriers to breakfast and helping people understand that just having a kid come down to the lunch room for breakfast is a barrier.

I have this rant every year, at least once a year with administrative staff, because there is no reason not to reduce every barrier [to breakfast] that you can. It generates revenue for the district, it’s better for kids educationally, it’s better for their health—it’s all those things so there is no reason not to do it except that a teacher doesn’t like it, or maybe it’s more difficult in some other way.

BB: We hear that a lot—even when breakfast-in-the-classroom is established, sometimes directors and managers have to really stay vigilant to keep the program in place.

DG: I had a Grab-n-Go program at a middle school that a new principal–after consulting with teachers–thought would be better in the cafeteria.  Before discussing the change with me he announced the change to staff, and we were obligated to move breakfast into the cafeteria only.   The change resulted in a 20 percent drop in breakfast participation and a $3,000 revenue drop in my program.

I think teachers and administrators sometime lose sight of health when it comes to education.  I had a former Superintendent who commented, “Some of those kids will mess around in the gym, run around, and at the last minute they’ll grab their breakfast and go to the classroom.” And my reply to that is, “You just won! That kid is in the best physical and mental shape to learn!” His blood is flowing to his brain, he’s got good oxygen going, and now he’s eating and fueling himself—you want every kid to be in that kid’s state!

I think a lot of times we’re battling these conventions: We have a perfectly good cafeteria and Why should we do that?  or That kid should eat at home—all of those arguments people make against breakfast-in-the-classroom. Part of my role is to continue to raise the banner that breakfast is good for kids, and it doesn’t cost us money! I need to continue to advocate and remind teachers. Teachers have so much going on and breakfast-in-the-classroom seems like just one more thing, but it’s easy to forget that it’s important. So what if it is only five kids a day that might be hungry? Then you lose them for that morning of education. Those are the five kids that are struggling anyway, and you have to ask if you can afford to lose those five kids a day.

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