This is Part Two of a two-part series on breakfast-in-the-classroom at McMinnville School District in Oregon. Today we will hear from principals at two McMinnville Schools—Margie Johnson from Grandhaven Elementary and Kourtney Ferrua of Wascher Elementary—on why they believe breakfast-in-the-classroom is the perfect fit for their schools. Don’t miss Part One of our McMinnville series, featuring interviews with Director of Nutrition Services Cindi Hiatt-Henry and Crista Hawkins of the Oregon Dairy Council.
If there is one thing we know school breakfast needs it is principal champions who believe in the benefits of the program, and are willing to share their stories with other administrators. Over the years we have spoken with many school nutrition program directors and managers, and if there is one thing they agree on it is this: Having a supportive principal in your corner can make all the difference for a successful breakfast-in-the-classroom program.
We sat down to talk to two principals from McMinnville Public Schools about the breakfast-in-the-classroom program at their schools. Margie Johnson is the principal at Grandhaven Elementary, where Hiatt-Henry launched her BIC pilot program. We asked Margie what made her so willing to embrace breakfast-in-the-classroom.
“Back when I was a teacher—I taught in another state, before there was even such a thing as a school breakfast program!—I had kids who often came to school late, and I was very much aware that they probably had not had breakfast,” she explained. “I brought in a toaster, bread, peanut butter, and jelly, and I offered it to any child who wanted it before the day was started.”
“People don’t realize—children are unable to learn until all of their basic needs are met, and hunger is one. It was amazing, the difference the food made in allowing them to focus in the morning.”
So when Hiatt-Henry presented the idea of BIC at a principals meeting, Johnson thought back to the effect that toaster had on her own students years ago, and jumped at the chance. “It was new, and people didn’t understand it but I thought it sounded great,” she said, and went about the business of collecting data for staffers to better understand the impact of breakfast on students.
“I put together a few articles, and had the staff read, highlight, and interact with the text,” explained Johnson. “We shared pros and cons in small groups, and then as a whole group, and it was unanimous among the teachers that [BIC] would be a great addition at our school.”
Johnson is quick to point out that the school nutrition staff worked hard to make BIC happen at Grandhaven. “I have an awesome kitchen manager, Claudia Hamilton, who has really embraced this program and she wants it to work—and she is thrilled that every kid is getting breakfast,” said Margie. “We were the first school to be brave enough to try it, and it’s been wonderful. Participation for breakfast is amazing—almost 100 percent—and we no longer have a line of kids at the office mid-morning; we have seen a lot of benefits.”
Both Johnson, and Wascher Elementary principal Kourtney Ferrua, cite Eric Jensen’s writings (Teaching with Poverty in Mind, Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind) as influential and informative on the subject of nutrition and learning.
Kourtney Ferrua liked what was happening at Grandhaven, and thought breakfast-in-the-classroom would be a good fit for her students at Wascher as well. With a high number of students living below the poverty level, Ferrua had been giving a lot of thought to the connection between nutrition and education outlined in Jensen’s writings. “Our staff has done a lot of work around Teaching with Poverty in Mind. In both of his books we learned that nutrition has a huge impact on kids. Breakfast-in-the-classroom has been a great opportunity to give them additional, high-quality nutrition,” said Ferrua.
“We had a lot of kids coming to the office with various maladies last year—stomachaches, headaches—and we wondered, ‘Are they just hungry?’ We were keeping breakfast bars and snacks around, and that solved the problem a lot of the time,” said Kourtney. “This year, with breakfast-in-the-classroom, we haven’t had as many kids come to the office, which is great.”
At one point, when folks were wondering whether kids could work and eat breakfast at their desks, Kourtney said a quick look around the room was enough to convince her the answer was ‘yes.’
“Some of us had coffee, or some fruit, and we are being absolutely productive in this conversation—it made us realize that this isn’t exactly something foreign, multitasking; many of us eat or drink while we’re working!” To test that theory, Ferrua spent the first few weeks after implementation walking around, quietly observing the students in their classrooms. “They were actively engaged in their learning, with their breakfast right next to them,” she reported.
BIC has been a great program for Wascher, and Ferrua credits teamwork and creative problem solving with its success. Laying the groundwork with her staff by educating them about the program, and inviting them to share their questions and concerns, ensured everyone felt heard and valued. Early planning also allowed plenty of time to identify obstacles and find solutions; at Wascher, this meant relocating garbage cans, a slight adjustment to the custodial schedule, and creating a leadership team of students—fourth- and fifth-graders who would be in charge of delivering breakfast to the classrooms in the morning.
The best part about breakfast-in-the-classroom is its flexibility, so let that work for you. “One tweak we made was with the half-day kindergarten—we give them breakfast a little later, right before recess to avoid running into their morning literacy rotation,” said Ferrua, citing one example. “We also had to think about things like P.E. – if a student has P.E. at 8:10 a.m., does it make sense to have them eat breakfast before, or after? Those are the kinds of things that you have to think about—your building, your setting, your students. Our experience has been very positive for us.”