Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom Chat: Lisa Leggett, Director of Crisp County Schools, Georgia

When it comes to breakfast-in-the-classroom, one of the most important keys to program success and sustainability is principal buy-in. “Well, maybe if I could convince my principal … ,” is a common refrain we hear from school nutrition directors and managers interested in implementing BIC in their district.

We recently sat down to chat with Lisa Leggett, Director of School Nutrition for Crisp County Schools in Georgia, to learn how a combination of principal support and crucial grant money helped her launch breakfast-in-the-classroom at Crisp County Middle School in the fall of 2015.

“I had the principal ask me if we could do breakfast-in-the-classroom, and knowing the layout of this location my first response was to think, ‘No way can we do breakfast-in-the-classroom!’” explained Lisa, continuing, “but whenever you get buy-in from the administration on something like this you just have to find a way to do it.”

Faced with a challenging school layout and a lack of funding, Leggett set about to find some solutions. Moveable breakfast carts could solve the first problem, but led directly to the second problem—where to find the funds for such expensive equipment?

“We needed to pay for the carts, but capital investment isn’t something we have sitting around in the bank, you know!” laughed Lisa. “We decided to start looking for grants, and found the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom and another from Fuel Up to Play 60, and developed a three-cart, Grab-n-Go breakfast [delivery model]. We were awarded money from both grants, and we are in month two of implementation.”

By declaring his stake in the BIC program, Leggett’s principal helped secure buy-in among other parties—teachers, custodians, school nutrition staff—in the early stages of planning. By taking ownership, the principal set the tone for the success of the program. Although some teachers were resistant in the beginning, Lisa says they have come around after seeing breakfast-in-the-classroom in action.

“They are finding that the kids come in, get settled, and we don’t have any conflicts first thing in the day because they aren’t in a group of 300 in the cafeteria, they are in groups of 20-25, already in their classrooms.”

“In 45 minutes we feed over five hundred kids,” continued Lisa. “We were feeding somewhere around 300 to 350 in the cafeteria [before BIC]. We are a CEP [ed. note: Community Eligibility Provision] county—we have 98 percent [free/reduced], so breakfast really helps the students.”

The smaller FUTP60 grant helped Lisa to pay for one of the carts used for breakfast, but the larger Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant helped her secure the remaining equipment she needed. The Partners for BIC grant also offered the flexibility to make adjustments when new challenges presented themselves; with the appropriate permissions and approvals, PBIC can reallocate funding to address each grant recipient’s individual needs.

“[The Partners for] Breakfast in the Classroom said I could shift some money when we were replacing our computers,” Lisa explained. “I was hoping I could get a battery-operated PC to serve both in the lunchroom and out on the carts, but quickly realized it wouldn’t be a good idea to move it around too much. We ended up asking PBIC to help us pay for our computers, plus extras I hadn’t thought of like the software, the PIN pad, things like that—and they approved the shift in funds.”

Lisa also employed some creative problem solving when she realized that computer carts for the new equipment would cost upwards of $2,000.

“We looked at computer carts, but they were so expensive!” exclaimed Lisa. “I said that there was just no way we were going to spend $2,000 on a cart to set the computer on! We found three old audio/visual carts so we repurposed them; one of our maintenance guys bolted the computers right on—we showed him what we were thinking, and he got it done.”

When it comes to menuing, Lisa’s goal is consistency; she credits Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom technical assistance conference calls with helping her create her current system.

“The [students] know every day the cereal bar with the whole fruit choice is on the top-left, the juice with two cereal bars is to the top-right, and the consistency of that set up really helps,” said Lisa. “We found a nice clear bag, and the teachers have taught [students] to put everything back into that bag, to go out into the hallway, and put everything into the rolling trash cans. The kids are old enough and responsible enough, that that is working for us.”

Breakfast-in-the-classroom is meeting a real need, and it’s not just increased participation that illustrates that fact for Lisa Leggett and her staff.

“We found that there was a bit of a stigma about going to the cafeteria for breakfast,” said Leggett.” “We hear this commonly, that even if the students don’t eat an item right [in the morning] they know they can put a cereal bar in their backpack and have it before getting ready for soccer practice. I know the food is really being used.” A student may eat lunch as early as 10:30 in the morning, said Lisa, and with dismissal at 3 p.m. she knows those grab-and-go items are helping many students bridge the hours between lunch and dinner.

With a smooth, three-cart grab-n-go breakfast delivery in place, the future of breakfast-in-the-classroom in Crisp County Schools is about improving menu choices and meeting—and exceeding—customer expectations. To that end, said Lisa, she’s heading off to a food show the day after our interview to find new foods for students to try.

“We’re looking at things they like, like sausage or chicken patties with biscuits,” said Lisa. “And we’re working on customer service. I remember when I used to go to Wendy’s and they would say, ‘See you tomorrow!’ and it’s things like that—it’s that easy to reach your customers, and just because [students] are a captive audience you still have to think about customer service.”

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