For Marilyn Neil, Foodservice Director of Northeast Schools in Arma, Kansas, breakfast-in-the-classroom is an important tool in fighting hunger in her district. Drawn to the concept of a universal program, Neil first encountered the idea—and the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant opportunity—at a meeting of local foodservice directors focused on health and wellness policies.
“FRAC was [at the meeting], and they talked about the BIC grant, and then I went on from there to research it and then go after it,” explained Marilyn. “We’re in a low socioeconomic area with a lot of hunger issues—we do virtually every program that is offered except for supper.” In addition to a weekend backpack program, Neil oversees afterschool meals and a fresh fruit and vegetable program, and she says she does it all with full administrative support.
“I have an administration that is very concerned with childhood hunger,” said Marilyn, who believed that the timing was right to bring her idea for breakfast-in-the-classroom to her administration. “I knew I would have backing!”
Marilyn applied for grants for her elementary and middle schools to cover expenses relating to equipment, training for teachers, and some marketing. She’s fortunate enough to have excellent refrigeration and freezer space, so equipment costs were allocated for a kiosk for the middle school, some carts, insulated bags to transport hot foods, totes to carry the cold food, and extra trash cans for all of the classrooms, so that the BIC trash could be handled separately; Neil also purchased a cart for the custodial staff to use to collect the bagged classroom garbage when breakfast service is complete.
It wasn’t just a supportive administration that helped Marilyn implement breakfast-in-the-classroom—she had stakeholder support pretty much across-the-board. The key to success is bringing everyone together, addressing their concerns, and remaining flexible to address challenges that arise along the way.
“Our teachers were great, and everybody says it’s working out great for the kids, too,” said Marilyn. “None of our teachers pushed back! They said, ‘No our kids are hungry and we want to do whatever we can to feed them.’”
“The custodians had concerns because we have carpets in all of our rooms, so [we compromised]. I don’t do bowl cereal, [to avoid] milk mess, so I send cereal pouches; I don’t send syrup, and I don’t do biscuits and gravy—not that it might not come back after the teachers get comfortable!” Neil reports that teachers are already asking about offering cereal, which may also return to the classroom down the road.
“We’re small enough that I could do it on an individual basis,” explained Marilyn. “Maybe second and third graders get cereal bowls but fourth and fifth don’t—I can customize it.”
As for breakfast service, Marilyn and her staff have the routine down pat already.
“I have four ladies—one comes in early to cook the hot items, and the other three come in thirty minutes later. We put all the cold food in totes, the hot food in insulated bags, and then each lady has three grade levels; she delivers it down the hall, we set up in the rooms, and the teachers take it from there.” Students scan their cards when they go through the line, and head straight to the classroom.
“It just takes a little bit of organization, but it’s really very simple,” said Marilyn. Last year her biggest breakfast participation came on biscuit-and-gravy day, when she would serve around 220 students, but after implementing BIC—and even without student-favorite biscuits-and-gravy on the menu!—Neil is serving over 300 students a day at breakfast, after just a couple of weeks of school.
Because she had already done a breakdown of the financials for the grant application, Neil was ready with hard data to show the administration as well.
“A lot of directors as me, ‘How did you do it?’ and I tell them, ‘You have to go to the administration and get them on board, and then you can go and talk to other people—but the administration has to back you.”
And because there is still time for other Kansas schools to apply for a Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant, we asked Marilyn to share her application experience with us. Her advice? Don’t be intimidated or dissuaded by the application process!
“It was very simple! You do have to sit down and do the work, but it was not a difficult process and it did not take that much time,” explained Marilyn. “The best part is that the benefit to our students is just enormous. We’re ten days in and we’re seeing the difference already—virtually all of my younger grades are eating.” While she is seeing slightly lower participation at the junior high level, Neil already has plans to help increase awareness of and engagement in BIC among older students.
“We have just a little pushback there, but we’re working on doing a few inexpensive incentives for highest participation in a room. It’s just a matter of keeping it fresh, keeping it going, keeping it in front of them so they know about it. And I will be singing the praises of this program at every professional meeting I go to!”
Do you live in Kansas, and are interested in applying for a Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant? Visit our website and contact the Partners for BIC! Applications are being accepted now in Kansas, as well as Virginia, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Alabama!