Great things are happening in Butts County School District School Nutrition Program, and we’re pretty excited to be playing a role. A few weeks ago they implemented a fresh fruit and vegetable program at Jackson Elementary, and now they are leveraging their CEP status to implement breakfast-in-the-classroom with the help of a grant from the Partners for BIC. We recently sat down to talk with Butts County’s School Nutrition Director, Nicole James, to hear more about why BIC was the right fit for Butts County schools.
Beyond Breakfast: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Nicole! Tell us a little bit about Butts County, and your school nutrition program.
Nicole James: Well, we have five schools with an enrollment of around 3500 students. We are on Community Eligibility Provision, and we feed about 58-60 percent at breakfast, and around 91 percent at lunch. This will be our third year on CEP.
When we started CEP, we did breakfast-in-the-classroom in two of our elementary [schools]. The CEP was not a slam dunk for us—our IFP was only 77.3 percent, and bringing participation up was the only thing that would allow us to keep the program. The administrators, our superintendent—everyone really wanted it. [CEP] was valued in the community, which we could see in the way our participation went up.
BB: So how did BIC affect the overall picture?
NJ: We were really struggling at the middle school—that’s the one I [applied] for through the BIC grant, because they were doing about 96 percent at lunch but only 38 at breakfast. That’s just not good! We have hit 61 percent since the principal gave BIC the green light.
BB: So what does your BIC delivery look like?
NJ: We have two different choices, a hot line and grab-n-go. We have a buggy, the kids get their breakfast, and then take it to the classroom. They can also go through the hot line and take it to the classroom, or the cafeteria. Any kids that go into the gym, we bring the grab-n-go buggy over [to them] and if they haven’t eaten yet they can take a breakfast to homeroom and eat it there.
BB: When you applied for the Partners for BIC grant, where did you need to apply the biggest portion of your funds?
NJ: Mainly we needed equipment. We needed a warmer, because right now with grab-n-go we can only serve [shelf stable] items and cold items that can be kept cold. So things like a sausage biscuit, we can’t keep that out there because we don’t have a warmer; a portable warmer is one thing we need. We also need some new buggies, something that would appeal to the kids.
BB: How are kids responding to the current menu?
NJ: We did tests last year with some new items and tried to gear the menu toward things they like. Especially with middle and high school kids, they don’t always want to eat right away, so you have to offer things that appeal to them. Things like granola bars and fruit they can put in their bag and eat later when they are hungry—they like that.
BB: How was the application process for the grant itself?
NJ: I just followed the timeline, and there was a really good webinar that explained the whole process. I put the timeline dates on my Google calendar with reminders, I conferred with the manager and principal, and got our board’s permission—we had to have board approval—and then we started brainstorming what we needed, and completing each step of the grant as it came along. We also used the grant counsel that they gave us to help us.
BB: It sounds like you had a lot of buy-in from stakeholders for breakfast-in-the-classroom—how did you bring everyone together?
NJ: We decided as a team we wanted to do CEP and one of the criteria was that we had to implement new programs like BIC, and get creative about bringing our participation up to keep the program. That’s been our dedication—to do whatever it takes, to keep these kids in the program, eating breakfast and lunch, because that’s been a real blessing to the community.
BB: Going forward, what are your hopes for the coming school year?
NJ: We want to see the kids eat! I would love to see breakfast participation as high as lunch participation, since the studies show how important breakfast is—it’s just as important as lunch! And we are just doing a lot of great programs, everything you could imagine. We have a backpack program on the weekends that is totally community sponsored. We have never run out of food, and each school supplies the kids with things they need to prepare food over the weekend, and it’s done very discreetly. We partner with Smart Lunch, Smart Kid to do thousands of meals over the summer. We also started a Fresh Fruits & Veggies program at one of our elementary schools, and that’s going really well. We have pulots, and everyone wanted to know what a pulot was, so that was great!