Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom Chat: Greg Tardieu, Grants Officer, Alexandria City Public Schools, Virginia

Greg Tardieu came to his position as grants officer for Alexandria City Public Schools after a long career in education. After 17 years as a teacher, Tardieu transitioned into administration, where he served as 5 years as assistant principal and then 7 years as principal, before assuming his current job.

“There is never enough money, so as an administrator I was always putting on fundraisers, jog-a-thons, whatever,” laughed Tardieu. “I was pretty good at it, so now I’ve become a professional seeker of schools funds on a wider scale.”

Tardieu brings a healthy sense of humor to everything, but he’s serious about bringing breakfast-in-the-classroom to as many students as possible. When he stumbled across the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant opportunity he knew it was something that would benefit the students at ACPS. Two schools were already running some version of a breakfast-in-the-classroom program, but Tardieu thought that Francis C. Hammond Middle School would be a good candidate for a new BIC program.

“You know that movie, Remember the Titans?” asked Tardieu. Francis C. Hammond was the state football champion high school in that film; Hammond, along with their crosstown rival George Washington High, were sent to one district high school, TC Williams, where they go on to set the movie. “After that, Hammond went from being a high school that served about 800 students to a middle school with approximately 1400 students—it grew like a weed.”

Serving 1400 students breakfast and lunch in a cafeteria designed to hold just 800 is—as you can imagine—quite a challenge. Tardieu thought that the Breakfast in the Classroom program could ease crowding, and make mornings calmer by keeping kids in smaller groups that were easier to supervise. He also wanted to alleviate the stigma that had attached itself, as it so often does, to school breakfast.

“Francis Hammond has a high free and reduced rate, but only 300 out of 1400 kids were eating breakfast,” explained Tardieu. “Most of the kids at Hammond were not eating breakfast, even if they qualified for free breakfast. There has always been a stigma about the breakfast versus the lunch.  Families will pay for lunch, but not as many will pay for breakfast. So at lunchtime, everyone is hungry and everyone eats – there is no stigma. School breakfast, on the other hand, is seen as ‘only for the poor kids,’ so kids are more reluctant to participate. Also, time in the morning is very short, so kids have a choice to stand in cafeteria line and eat quickly, or go hang out and socialize with their friends.  The choice is easy: no stigma and time with my friends.”

“The key to this new breakfast program is that every kid eats; that’s my take, from a principal’s perspective,” said Tardieu. “If your free/reduced rate is high enough, the program becomes self-supporting—it funds itself. When all the kids eat, the stigma is reduced. When the kids are in the classroom, you have one teacher watching twenty kids instead of two or three adults watching a few hundred kids in the cafeteria. Moving breakfast to the classroom is a no-brainer.”

Pushback is inevitable, but with the help of PBIC consultant Liz Campbell, and School Nutrition Foundation program manager Sarah Murphy, Tardieu was able to address stakeholder concerns.

“Liz and Sarah were great on the stakeholder end of things,” he recalled. “When we began discussions about this program the biggest concerns were whether we would need to hire more custodians or purchase additional equipment—we were even talking about a trash compactor. Folks were concerned about messes, milk spills, rats and pests—you name it. Liz and Sarah were able to facilitate and educate; they have been down this path so many times, and no matter what question we asked they assured us that it was not, in fact, the most ridiculous question they had ever been asked and they walked us through solutions. They know how to manage both sides—the funding and the school implementation—so the process moves forward and everyone gets what they need.”

Tardieu also needed to combat stigma surrounding breakfast-in-the-classroom among stakeholders who remembered a less-than-successful attempt to implement a similar program years before in neighboring school districts.

“Folks in our area have the memory from classroom experiments ten or fifteen years ago, which were not as successful,” he recounted. “So even though ACPS had two schools running successful breakfast-in-the-classroom programs, we had to reassure folks about those concerns about messes and pests. Having people like Liz and Sarah come in, having them show us how to do it—and how to do it so it has flexibility, and our own “flavor”—helped make sure we moved forward. No one wins if this program fails, and it’s going to win mainly because of all the folks who did the heavy lifting before us.”

So, what did FC Hammond need to get breakfast-in-the-classroom off the ground? A principal champion was where Tardieu started.

“First and foremost we needed a champion for the cause – and that was Hammond’s Principal Ms. Pierrette Hall,” he said. “Ms. Hall and I were co-principals at George Washington Middle School and we have worked well together. Last summer when took the helm at Francis Hammond it was like the stars lined up for this program. She was on board the moment I showed her the grant. Principal Hall has expanded this program into a student leadership program that I believe other schools should incorporate. Her energy and vision is making all the difference.”

So, what has the breakfast-in-the-classroom grant been able to provide Hammond? Equipment, equipment, equipment. A new walk-in freezer is going in, and an existing half-and-half freezer/refrigerator unit will be refurbished. Dry storage shelving will be remodeled to make it more efficient, and preparation tables will also be upgraded. Hot and cold delivery bags—90 of each—will deliver items to 90 classrooms via breakfast carts, which were also purchased new with money from the PBIC grant.

“Thanks to Partners for Breakfast in Classroom, we also found additional partners in the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association who wanted to join their effort by providing the delivery bags,” explained Tardieu. “The Partners [for BIC] have created a movement that people can stand behind.”

“Any money we can save by working with contractors and bids to keep prices down helps us use the money more efficiently,” said Tardieu. “If we squeeze every penny in savings, we may be able to purchase a dishwasher—our kitchen personnel would love that. Making the money go as far as possible is good for everyone.”

“Our school division has a very diverse student body,” said Tardieu. “You can’t just give kids what’s good for them—you have to meet them where they are at. We can’t treat kids like they are little adults, they are still just kids with tons of built up energy – they need to be active and move around.  PE is great to get some of that energy out to help settle them down. Feeding them settles them down; when their bodies are digesting food, especially protein, it really helps to settle them down. We need to feed kids properly and make sure they get plenty of exercise, and I think people are coming to that realization.”

Since this interview Tardieu and the ASCP staff have rolled out breakfast-in-the-classroom at FC Hammond and so far, the process is going well. There will be room for tweaks and improvements going forward, to make sure the program is as successful as possible for all stakeholders—especially the students.

“I know when kids eat they are calmer, and we have the evidence that breakfast works to improve [academics],” said Tardieu. “There is a lot of excitement about the FC Hammond breakfast-in-the-classroom roll-out; we are turning things around with discipline and test scores. Making sure the program works means the kids win. Again, I’m really just standing on the shoulders of others before me, who had to go through those bumps and bruises. We’re ready!”

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