Our trip to Little Rock, AR in May proved to be one of the most exciting aspects of the Beyond Breakfast project yet. In addition to seeing stakeholders gather in support of the program, we got to see the beneficiaries—the kids—eating breakfast. Most exciting was seeing the way in-classroom breakfast works from a logistical standpoint: What happens in the cafeteria? How is the food delivered? How is the food distributed? How is the classroom time spent while students eat? How are the breakfast materials collected, and garbage disposed of?
As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about in-classroom breakfast. Generally when I read a news article online, I also take a few minutes to scan the comments sections of a news article to get a sense of public reaction to the topic. I have been quite surprised at some of the negative reactions on stories about breakfast-in-the-classroom programs that have been featured in the news; not that there are negative reactions, but the specific concerns expressed. I understand parents and taxpayers being concerned about issues like pest control and instruction time, but some of the people who are opposed to in-classroom breakfast have objected because they are afraid that it will result in massive food fights or increased allergy issues; in one article a parent expressed concern that kids would finger paint each other with food products if in-classroom breakfast were implemented.
Finger-painting with food?
Pest-control is managed through proper food-handling and disposal procedures. Instructional time can be enhanced—and even extended—by using the brief breakfast period as a planning and outline period through adding a short instruction session during food distribution, or using it as a period to go over the day’s tasks. What I saw in Little Rock were teachers using the breakfast period to create a relaxing, inclusive classroom environment where everyone “got on board” with the day through a shared meal; some teachers conducted short lessons, others went over the plan for the day, while still others used the time to create a dialogue within the class.
The students were calm, relaxed, and engaged with each other and their teachers. The food was distributed by student helpers within each classroom; the materials picked up quietly and left outside the classroom door for pick-up after the breakfast period.
I didn’t see any finger-painting, any food fights. I didn’t see anything from a logistic standpoint that would be an increased allergy risk, as compared to a cafeteria-style distribution setting.
Concerns and even objections are good things—they make us think about potential problems, and find solutions for them before they become systemic. But time and time again in-classroom breakfast has proven to be a problem solver, not a problem creator: tardiness and absences drop, test scores improve, obesity rates fall, and lunch participation rises when in-classroom breakfast programs are available to students. Ed Bruske reported on these benefits, and study after study bears them out as well.
But seeing is believing, and I saw a school full of kids who smiled, made eye contact, and chatted happily with adults about the difference breakfast in the classroom is making in their lives and education. The proof is in the pudding … er, oatmeal …
We were given an exciting welcome to Mabelvale Elementary School–check out these kids!