Breakfast in the Classroom Break: Sandra Kemp, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Albuquerque Public Schools, New Mexico

Another great connection we made at LAC 2016 this year was with Sandra Kemp, Director of Food and Nutrition Services in Albuquerque Public Schools. School breakfast is a hot topic in New Mexico right now, but we skipped the politics and went straight to the practical, asking Sandra what makes breakfast-in-the-classroom the right fit for the Albuquerque school district.

“Breakfast-in-the-classroom, or Breakfast After the Bell, is about students being able to start their day with something in their stomach,” explained Sandy. “We understand that the need is there, and while the logistics can be hard to work out, we definitely have food insecurity in New Mexico. Breakfast is just so important—those kids need that meal to start the day with food in their stomachs. On Monday morning we have students coming in who have not had the opportunity for those nutritious meals over the weekend. We want to have a healthy breakfast waiting for them.”

Sandy has been in her current position for about a year and a half, and her initiation has been something of a trial-by-fire. In addition to handling the complicated logistics for APS’s breakfast-in-the-classroom program, her first year on the job included a complete overhaul of the district’s central kitchen among other major projects. After moving from university foodservice to school foodservice, the Purdue University graduate worked her way up through the APS system starting as an area manager. Kemp oversees 139 traditional schools in addition to several schools of choice and charter schools. Motivated to explore school foodservice because of the more family-friendly hours, Sandy immediately felt a connection with her young customers.

“At the end of the day I feel good,” said Kemp. “I feel like I make a difference for these kids, and what we do is important. We are here for the kids, and that’s the end of the story. We need to invest in them now.”

One of the biggest challenges BIC faces in Albuquerque is the disparity of school start times, which makes timing delivery with school bus arrivals, and a host of other logistic barriers that require creativity and flexibility on the part of Kemp and her staff.

“APS is so big; we have some schools starting at 7:20 in the morning, while others start at 9:30, and then we are serving lunch as early as 10:30 but the kids aren’t hungry—it’s a challenge!” explained Sandy. “I was talking to a principal who loved the concept [of BIC] but the start time was a real sticking point.”

While she encounters her fair share of breakfast-in-the-classroom skeptics, meeting stakeholders where she finds them and showing them—rather than telling—the benefits of the program is one of Kemp’s strategies for stakeholder engagement. One benefit for the food and nutrition department is the ability to offer employees more hours, improving turnover.

“We had a lot on our plate, but one of the positives was being able to have more hours and staff available, and keeping people employed,” said Sandy. “Offering people more hours slows down that turnover rate, giving us opportunities to keep staff happy.” Kemp is also hoping to add custodial hours during the summer through summer and other feeding programs.

When it comes to teachers, convincing them that breakfast-in-the-classroom is sometimes a “seeing-is-believing” proposition. Eventually, says Kemp, even the biggest critics end up seeing value in the program—especially when they see the effect on their students.

“I had a teacher at one elementary school who told me, “I was really reluctant about BIC—I just thought ‘No, no, no! We don’t want that mess and everything else!’” recalled Kemp. “She’s one of those teachers who is really there for her students, and now she thinks breakfast-in-the-classroom is one of the best things we’ve done for our students.”

“Staff buy-in is so important,” Sandy continued. “The biggest thing is being able to communicate what your intentions are. We like putting out surveys asking stakeholders to weigh in. Teachers are overworked like everyone else, but as one teacher at Emerson Elementary pointed out that breakfast-in-the-classroom time can be valuable—learning how to do hygiene, table manners, using breakfast time to talk about how to eat properly, how to carry on a conversation while eating, even something as simple as handwashing! Breakfast is an opportunity for those lessons, and having these opportunities to learn these lessons is so important.”

Going forward, Sandy’s goal is to keep the lines of communication open with stakeholders to make her BIC programs as flexible and responsive to the needs of each building as possible.

“Open communication means we can get that important feedback and make adjustments to the program that benefit the teachers,” said Kemp. “All it took was a conversation with one teacher and I scrapped my plans to purchase individually-wrapped wipes to clean up messes; she mentioned that teachers were already using the Wet Wipes dispensers and that’s something I can do for them—I can say, “Let us do that for you” and absorb that cost because we had that conversation. It’s going to be easier, and I’ll have less trash. Communication is the key.”

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