If you joined us last week for SNA’s Webinar Wednesday—Operating a Breakfast in the Classroom Program: Everything You Want to Know about Implementation—you will remember Lawrence Whiting, Coordinator of Operations at Franklin City Schools in Virginia, as one of our guest presenters. A few days after the webinar we sat down to chat with Lawrence to learn more about his experience with breakfast-in-the-classroom, and how a Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant helped Franklin City Schools get their program off the ground.
Whiting brings a wealth of experience to his job, having previously been a teacher, assistant principal, and a principal before ending up in the district’s central office in his current position. He hopes to become a superintendent one day, which means learning all of the “ins and outs” of how a district runs. He has served as director of pupil personnel, but these days he is in charge of the cafeteria, transportation, and student discipline, and jokes that by the time he’s done, he’ll have done every tough task possible in the central office.
Prior to ending up in education, Lawrence served in the military, enlisting after college and spending ten years in the service. When it was time to move on to a new opportunity, Whiting decided to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“Believe it or not, my whole life I wanted to own a McDonald’s,” said Lawrence. “When I got out of the military, I bought myself a McDonald’s! That’s how I got into education—through partnering with public schools. When I sold the McDonald’s, a principal talked to me about teaching, so I wound up teaching. Then I got my administrative endorsement and … here I am. They thought with my background I could handle the cafeteria. I wasn’t really sure it worked that way, and I was right—it’s very different!”
Luckily for Lawrence he inherited a staff of kitchen managers with a great deal of experience, and he immediately looked to them for guidance.
“One of the managers had twenty years of experience, and the other two had over thirty of experience here in the district,” said Whiting. “I came in and said, ‘Listen–y’all are going to have to teach me what I need to know, and we’re going to have to work together’ and I don’t know if they felt sorry for me or what, but they took me under their wing and taught me everything I needed to know from their perspective.”
Lawrence also took full advantage of the professional training available to help him navigate the learning curve of his new position.
“The state has a new director’s orientation, and USDA does that in Virginia as well—a workshop for handling and processing USDA foods. I understood the foodservice basics, but the government part of it was very different.”
Whiting also cites his district’s involvement in a food buying co-op, twice-yearly USDA regional meetings, and regular meetings of state SNA members for helping him get up to speed.
“We exchange ideas on what is happening in foodservice, and what we’re doing [in our districts],” said Lawrence. “We had a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and a lot of that conversation was about breakfast-in-the-classroom. We share ideas on what’s working, what’s not working, and what opportunities are out there.”
After hearing about breakfast-in-the-classroom from colleagues, Lawrence decided to do a little research on the program for himself. He found the studies linking school breakfast with improved student performance compelling, and brought the idea to his superintendent, who was new to the position in the previous school year.
“I hit him with the idea [for BIC], and I had an elementary school principal who was pretty progressive and thought it would be a good idea,” explained Whiting. By stressing the benefits for all of the stakeholders, not just the students, Lawrence was able to garner support for the program. A grant from the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom helped offset costs to get BIC off the ground.
“It was sort of a win-win for everyone,” said Lawrence. “The teachers wound up with about fourteen more minutes a day in class with the students that they can count as seat time—it actually increased class time.”
The flexibility of the program is key to its success for Franklin City Schools. Having the ability to not only choose the right delivery model for each school, but to change that delivery model mid-stream if the need presents itself, has allowed Franklin City to tailor the program when necessary. Whiting points to the recent switch in delivery methods at the high school as a perfect example.
“The middle and high schools just started BIC this year; the middle school has direct delivery, while the high school started off as grab-and-go,” explained Lawrence. “The high school took a look at what the middle school was doing, and [switched]. We’ve been doing direct delivery at the high school for a little over a week. We literally made the change from a Friday to a Monday.”
Although the switch has required working out a few new bugs, Whiting says the upshot is they have a built-in model at the middle school to help guide them during the change.
“We can always ask questions of the people at the middle school, and see what they are doing to make things work.”
Before breakfast-in-the-classroom Whiting says they had tried several strategies to increase breakfast participation in Franklin City Schools, including offering universal breakfast and changing up menu items, but nothing seemed to work. Implementing breakfast-in-the-classroom seemed like the logical next step in that process.
“We’d been on Provision 2, so students had free breakfast, but they were still eating at 45 percent [participation],” said Whiting. “We wanted to try something new, get outside the box, and breakfast-in-the-classroom has really made a difference.”
Securing the right equipment was one challenge Lawrence and his staff faced; what you need in terms of equipment will largely hinge on the type of delivery model you choose, says Whiting. At Franklin City Schools, multiple delivery models meant a variety of equipment needs would have to be met.
“We needed some cold storage and some warm storage, because we want to feed them a hot meal even in direct delivery,” said Whiting. “We needed insulated bags and carts—and packaging equipment. That was a big deal.” Lawrence said even a seemingly small change, like moving from brown paper bags to a more appealing presentation—colored bags and then a clear bag that allows students to see the contents—have made a positive impact on participation.
The positive impact of breakfast-in-the-classroom is not limited to participation numbers, however—Whiting says the program has the potential to be transformative for the overall morning atmosphere.
“I’m a former principal and one thing I know is that a lot of the stuff that the teachers are doing in the morning is administrative—handing out papers, collecting homework, taking attendance—and on a normal day those things take up class time. Now it’s during breakfast time, so it works for the teachers to get those administrative things done while the students are eating breakfast. They wound up in a situation where they realized ‘This really does increase our class time.’ When a student walks in they can start working with them immediately.”
Whiting also cited fewer disciplinary problems as a benefit of the program, the result of decentralizing 300 students from the cafeteria to smaller groups in the classroom.
“Sometimes we see a problem that happened over the weekend show up on Monday morning, someone wants to ‘take care of business’ so to speak,” said Lawrence. “But in the middle and high schools they are going straight to class, there aren’t a million people sitting around in one room that you have to keep track of; now it’s twenty or so students in one classroom with their regular teacher. It’s really helped with the discipline in the morning.”
By getting other stakeholders on board, Whiting was able to garner the support he needed to create a receptive environment for breakfast-in-the-classroom to take hold. Teachers, students, parents, school nutrition professionals, custodians, and administrators saw the value in the program, which delivered on its promise to increase participation at breakfast. Franklin County Public Schools wants to give every student the best chance to succeed academically, and providing universal breakfast and lunch is part of that strategy.
“I’ve read the studies,” said Whiting. “They indicate that students that eat breakfast and lunch do better in school, they do better on standardized tests. It had benefits for other stakeholders, not just the students. This opportunity has really made a difference.”
There is still time to apply for a Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant! If you live in one of our eligible states—Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—visit the Partners for BIC website or NEA Healthy Futures to learn more!