Observing Breakfast-in-the-Classroom at J.J. “Jake” Pickle Elementary, Austin ISD

It was still dark when we arrived at J.J. “Jake” Pickle Elementary in Austin, Texas at 6:30 on a Monday morning. We were greeted by Pickle Elementary cafeteria manager Oleydis Padilla and her staff, already hard at work organizing and packing breakfast-in-the-classroom for the school’s more than 600 students. Soft-sided bags and coolers were set up in pairs at various stations around the cafeteria; Padilla’s team filled the bags with cold cereal and warm, whole-grain cereal bars, while milk, juice, and applesauce—stacked neatly in clear, AISD-branded plastic bags—went into the coolers. While the ladies worked, Padilla told us about what transitioning to breakfast-in-the-classroom was like for her school nutrition staff.

20161107_062847“It went pretty well, really,” said Padilla, as we walked around the cafeteria. “At first we were a little nervous about how it would go in the morning, but really it’s a smooth process.”

Preparation starts around 6 a.m., and once packed the bags and coolers are delivered to each classroom before the students arrive at 7:30 a.m.

“The teachers give the kids until about 8:10 a.m., and we come around at 8:15 a.m. to pick everything up and bring it back to the cafeteria,” explained Padilla. Once breakfast is out of the way, her staff takes a quick coffee break, and then begins lunch prep in the kitchen.

20161107_062815_001We asked Padilla about the usual fears and pitfalls when implementing breakfast-in-the-classroom, and while she admits she had that initial moment of “how-is-this-going-to-work” panic, the program itself ended up being simple enough to manage—she even ended up with a surplus of labor hours, and her staff finds the transition from breakfast to lunch even smoother than when breakfast was served in the cafeteria.

20161107_063300“It’s good for the kids, and they love it, especially the kolache,” said Padilla. (A kolache is a Czech dish—a pastry-sausage combination, similar to a large pig-in-a-blanket—that is very popular in Texas.) “Our participation went way up, and it’s good for them—it helps them learn.”

We were soon joined by AISD director of Nutrition & Food Services Anneliese Tanner and Lindsey Bradley, district marketing specialist, and as we followed the kitchen staff during breakfast delivery the conversation turned to Austin ISD’s strong commitment to serving breakfast-in-the-classroom. Not only does BIC enjoy tremendous support from the district superintendent, Dr. Paul Cruz, the program is actually an integral part of the AISD strategic plan. One of our first questions was about how schools were selected to receive breakfast-in-the-classroom.

15025471_719627811524036_1825156557307361888_o“It’s all principal decision. If the principal wants to start we start as quickly as they are ready for; if they aren’t ready, we just keep that conversation going. Our focus is on universal sites, so any school with 80 percent or more free-and-reduced,” said Tanner. “Right now the majority of our sites are elementary schools, but we have two middle schools and one starting in the spring. We also have one high school [participating] and another high school in the spring.

AISD began rolling out BIC at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, starting with two schools and ending the year with eight serving breakfast-in-the-classroom. This year, AISD is serving BIC at 24 schools.

“We’re running the same type of model at the high school and it’s working really well. I think we have to tweak the menu a little; the menus are all the same and high school kids want a little more variety,” said Tanner. “At Atkins High School they asked for a smoothie, so we’re trying to figure out how to make 1500 smoothies that hold their quality. It’s mostly an equipment issue, and making sure the quality is good if we make them the day before. We also need to find a recipe that includes all of the [reimbursable] components.”

20161107_065125Once breakfast was delivered and kids were settled quietly in their classrooms eating breakfast and starting the day—some teachers were taking attendance, while others moved around the room helping students get situated at their desks—we headed back to the cafeteria where we met with Lauro Davalos, principal at Pickle Elementary. His previous experience with breakfast-in-the-classroom as a middle school teacher left him open to the idea of implementing the program at Pickle, but he says it was the other teachers on his staff—those who also had previous experience with BIC—that helped allay the fears of the teaching staff.

“When we served breakfast in the cafeteria from 7-7:30 a.m., a lot of kids were getting here after that time. BIC just made sense,” explained Davalos. “If you look at our population, and what the needs are, the kids who may not get a really good breakfast, it’s really a no-brainer. My only concern was [addressing the loss of instructional time] with teachers. What I found was that quite a few, maybe three or four percent, had already worked in a school with BIC and they were the ones who really brought the message home, by sharing their positive experiences.”

Davalos said once the program was in place, not only did teachers like it, they found that it provided unexpected opportunities to connect with their students.

20161107_065357“One thing teachers have told me is that [BIC] really builds a sense of community in the classroom when everyone can eat breakfast together. Parents, too; when I invite people together for Coffee with the Principal, I ask them to share their concerns, tell me what’s going great, what we need to work on, and overwhelmingly they cite breakfast-in-the-classroom as a positive thing.”

If y’all love breakfast-in-the-classroom, we recommend following Austin Independent School District—and AISD’s Nutrition & Food Services—on Facebook and Twitter! (Here are the links for the foodservice department’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, too!) And don’t forget to stop back to read part two of our visit to AISD—our trip to Mendez Middle School!

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