In July school was still out for the summer, but when we reached out for an interview we found Crisp County Middle School Principal Brandon Williams hard at work at his desk. After receiving a Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant, Crisp County Middle School students are now starting their day with a nutritious meal in a calm environment—two things growing kids need, said Williams.
“My first experience with breakfast-in-the-classroom was as a teacher,” he recalled. “It created a very quiet, calm morning. We didn’t have a ruckus in the cafeteria, we didn’t have students lingering in the hallways, and teachers did not feel rushed.”
Brandon Williams started his career in education in 2004 as a special education teacher working with students with disabilities and behavior disorders. His experience with BIC as an educator was so positive that it stuck with him. Years later, when he became a principal, Williams thought BIC might be a good fit for his students at Crisp Middle as well.
“When I came here, we had breakfast in the cafeteria and whatever happened over the weekend was going to be a discussion in the cafeteria on Monday morning,” recalled Williams. “And if that was a fight or a conflict—even if it was between adults—the kids would bring that in with them. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it was an issue. I thought about it and I knew that if we could eliminate those conflicts our teachers wouldn’t have to deal with them first thing in the morning.”
So Williams set out to bring breakfast-in-the-classroom to his students. First, he approached his nutrition director and cafeteria manager for input; when they indicated interest and enthusiasm, Williams knew funding would be next.
“When we started talking about it, we had to talk about how to fund it,” he said. “And then the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant opportunity came along and it was just wonderful.”
After Williams and his staff secured grant funding, the next stop was stakeholder engagement. How would teachers, custodians, parents, and students respond to breakfast-in-the-classroom? Parents were accepting, but reception among staff was mixed. According to Williams once his teachers and custodians had a chance to ask questions and learn more about the program, support was forthcoming.
“I had some teachers and custodians express concerns,” recalled Williams. “Custodian concerns included questions about arriving early to set up, trash pick-up, and classroom messes. That echoed teachers’ concerns about messes and stickiness in the classroom from syrup or juice. My reply was that no one would have to come in early—cafeteria staff handles that—and duties after BIC would look a lot like duties now. Custodians would still be checking hallways, picking up trash, and emptying trash, but we bought a big rolling trash can for the hallway.”
To allay teachers’ concerns about messes and pests, the nutrition department ensured that every classroom at Crisp Middle School was equipped with spray bottles and paper towels.
“We found that the students really cleaned up after themselves, and we didn’t see any big increase in spills or messes or insects,” said Williams. “The benefits of the program for the students far outweigh those concerns now, and custodians are fine with BIC as are our teachers.”
In fact, BIC has become a great opportunity for teachers to connect with the students one-on-one, something that Williams said was a priority for him when taking on the principal position at Crisp Middle School.
“One thing I’ve encouraged since I became principal is relationship-building between teachers and students. When you get to know students you can establish a trust, and without that trust we lose a lot of kids. Breakfast-in-the-classroom gives students and teachers an opportunity to spend time together. A teacher can say, ‘Hey, come eat breakfast with me, tell me about your weekend, how is your day going?’ With [BIC] the students come straight to the classroom, to the teachers, but there wasn’t time for that before.”
As a principal champion for breakfast-in-the-classroom, we were curious about how Williams encourages other administrators to keep an open mind about an alternative breakfast service.
“The main thing I tell other administrators is that it has helped us decrease discipline issues,” he said. “My discipline issues have decreased each year, including a big decrease last year, and I know breakfast-in-the-classroom played a role. Mornings are calm now, where before we would have to put out so many fires.”
Williams also cites an unintended benefit of the program: his cafeteria staff gets out of the cafeteria and into the building during breakfast service, giving everyone an opportunity to see each other and get to know one another in a different environment.
“My cafeteria staff likes being out among the [students],” he shared. “They are the ones who transport the food to various locations, and they have the chance to interact with the kids out in the hallways. The kids come through in smaller groups than on the serving line, so the staff can actually learn more about each student.”
Given the benefits and strong stakeholder support, Williams says breakfast-in-the-classroom is here to stay at Crisp County Middle.
“We will definitely be continuing with breakfast-in-the-classroom!” he said. “It’s a wonderful program and we love it.”