Breakfast in the Classroom Chat with Dora Rivas, Dallas ISD

Photos courtesy Dora Rivas, Dallas ISD

As the new academic calendar resets, we wanted to catch up with one of our Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom rock stars and see what’s on the menu for the 2011-12 school year.

We recently had a chance to speak with Dora Rivas, M.S., R.D., L.D. Dora is the Executive Food Service Director of Child and Nutrition Services in the Dallas Independent School District, Dallas, TX. Of the 155,000 students in the DISD, approximately 88% (130,000) eat their lunch at school. Wow!

But let’s talk breakfast. Dora’s commitment to serving students breakfast at school began before her 2005 move to Dallas ISD; in her previous position in the Brownsville ISD (Brownsville, TX) Dora piloted one of the first if not the first “Breakfast in a Bag” programs in the country in 1994, increasing participation there by 50%. The Breakfast in a Bag program earned Dora a USDA Best Practice Award. We think that Dora Rivas was in on the secret … that breakfast is going to change the world!

How many schools did Dallas ISD start with when implementing the Breakfast in the Classroom pilot program, and how many schools will you roll out in the fall?

We started with eight schools. This fall we have another 14 that are part of the Walmart Foundation grant. A total of 45 schools have expressed interest and we’re following up with them; these schools heard great things about BIC from the schools that have already started. By the end of October/November we’re hopefully optimistic that we may have close to 80. I think that what is great about the Walmart Foundation grant for Breakfast in the Classroom is that it sparked a great interest—not only in our schools, but in the community. However, we’re letting it grow and take its course. Hopefully it will be contagious.

How did the Walmart grant help you expand the program beyond the initial pilot schools?

I think an initial concern with any department—any foodservice director’s concern—is to make sure they are being conscientious with funds. You want to make sure you are going to get a return on your investment. The grant money helped us take a good investment from the Grant to buy delivery equipment like insulated bags and transport carts. It also will help us improve the quality of the menu items by taking some breakfast menu items currently not on the menu and pre-package them for easy distribution to classroom. Having the Walmart grant allowed us the startup [funds] for additional expenses to get a quality program off the ground.  From there, we were able to increase participation and thus increase revenues to where we could make it a sustainable program.  Demonstrating that this startup investment could result in a sustainable program will help justify the rationale for further expansion.

How far has the BIC pilot growth exceeded your goals/expectations?

I did expect it to grow, but what I did not expect was the great benefit that we have gotten from the partnerships. From working with FRAC, the local and National Education Association, the Elementary School Principals Association, School Nutrition Foundation, and local partners like our North Texas Food Bank that have worked closely with us.  They are committed to continue to work with us in being partners as we have managed to expand the program beyond the Walmart Foundation grant. We in foodservice are very committed to good nutrition and reducing hunger. It was really inspiring to see that same commitment and the same dedication from the other groups, the other partners. They, along with us, were really excited about the results.

Sometimes when we talk about the positive results it might appear self-serving because we want [the program] to succeed and expand; but when you hear the teachers and the community talk about the benefits to the children (focus, behavior, fewer nurse visits, learning responsibility, helping others) that part is overwhelming to learn. I think that whole process has been very inspiring and motivating at the same time, to continue to work and expand to other schools because you know you’re not alone.

How did attitudes of stakeholders—teachers, custodians, principals, etc.—change after implementation?

Because we talked to principals before, and we started the program with willing participants, I think that we had support of the program “from the start.” However, “Before” there were some that were a little skeptical and concerned because they had not seen it work. What is exciting—is that “After”  we do not see the anxiety;  what we see is willingness to move it forward, and their enthusiasm to see how well the program is going. So what I think we are seeing now is the attitudes going from “apprehension” to “enthusiasm.”

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