Free breakfasts to start for all kids at 15 District 11 elementaries -- 4 on WestsideBreakfast after the Bell is coming to the Westside.
It's a state-mandated program that will replace the existing strategy at 4 Westside elementaries - 15 total in District 11 - so that all their students will get free breakfasts instead of just those qualifying based on family income levels.
Also, using a relatively new strategy to increase participation, the meals will be served in the classroom after school starts instead of in the cafeteria before school. The expected eating time is 10 minutes.
The designated schools are those that have at least 80 percent of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price (F/RP) lunches based on family income levels.
- Midland (April 7).
- Bristol (April 10).
- Jackson (April 17).
- West, grades K-5 (April 21).
When passed by the Colorado Legislature as House Bill 1006 last year, the program was titled “Breakfast after the Bell Nutrition Program.” District 11 is implementing it under the name of “Breakfast in the Classroom.” The program is required to start in the 2014-2015 school year, but because of set-up issues at each of the 15 schools D-11 is implementing it this semester to be sure the deadline can be met, explained Rick Hughes, director of D-11 Food & Nutrition Services.
The top program objective in HB 1006 was to “increase the total number of children eating breakfast on school days.” According to Board of Education member Nora Brown, “only half of the low-income children that ate school lunch in the 2011-2012 school year also ate school breakfast.” As reasons, she cited “late bus schedules, long security lines, late arrivals and the stigma associated with the program being for 'poor kids.' … Serving breakfast in the classroom, however, erases those barriers and makes breakfast part of the school day.”
By offering meals to kids as they come into the classroom, at least 9 out of 10 kids on average are expected to take part, Hughes said.
Meals packaged, handed out in classrooms
Following the method used in a District 11 pilot classroom-breakfast program at Queen Palmer Elementary since 2011, the meals are cooked by D-11 Food Services, packaged and transported to each of the schools. The meals are intended to be nutritional and not easily spilled, according to Janine Russell, assistant director of food services. Examples are breakfast burritos, “egg mcmuffins,” fresh fruit, pancakes with syrupy taste (but no actual syrup), rolls with cinnamon flavor (but not the paste) and yogurt in squeeze tubes. A nutritious drink, such as milk, comes with the food. Accommodations can be made based on student allergies or vegetarian wishes, Russell said.
The breakfasts are handed to students as they come into the classroom. They eat at their desks. Records are kept of how many meals are taken. The teacher gets one, too.
Brown and other D-11 officials contacted by the Westside Pioneer praised the plan because it means fewer students at school on empty stomachs. This leads to other plusses, according to a video on the D-11 website based on the Queen Palmer experience, including improved attendance, better class participation, “community building” and a cost-saving for parents because “they don't have to provide breakfast for their child at home.”
Whether this translates into more scholarly kids is not addressed in the video, other than a quote from Hughes that “ultimately we think that student learning is going to improve.”
State law doesn't stipulate academic improvement
A measurement of educational progress is also not a requirement in HB 1006, although it includes an objective to “improve academic performance by preparing children to learn.”
The closest the Pioneer could find to academic documentation was a statement in a brochure by the national No Kid Hungry organization (referenced on the D-11 website), that “students who eat breakfast have been shown to achieve 17.5 percent higher scores on standardized math tests.” But that number does not distinguish students who eat breakfast at school from those who do so at home.
Brown was asked by the Pioneer if the district had done a learning study as part of Queen Palmer Elementary's pilot breakfast program. In response, she said that it was “just one school” and “we don't have sufficient data for you.”
How the program affects society, by giving the school district more of the responsibility that once belonged to students' parents - that is, feeding them -- is not addressed in the house bill or on the D-11 website.
District 11 sees $50,000 program shortfall in 2015-16
D-11 does have one concern about the state law, and it is financial. Hughes pointed out that HB 1006 only authorized partial funding for Breakfast after the Bell, with the belief that federal reimbursements resulting from increased F/RP participation would cover the unreimbursed meals from non-F/RP students. He believes that will be true the first year, when the law requires the breakfast program only at schools with 80 percent F/RP students. But in 2015-16, when the law mandates that the breakfast program expand to schools with only 70 percent F/RC, “District 11 will need to find $50,000” to pay the extra cost, he said.
D-11 actually appealed to legislators last year, hoping to eliminate the requirement for feeding the non-F/RP kids. But the Legislature's Democrat majority was more inclined to listen to a group called Hunger Free Colorado, which liked the bill as it is.
“What we said paled in comparison with the Hunger Free Colorado lobbyists,” Hughes recalled of D-11's lobbying effort. “Our voices weren't loud enough. It was like the things we were saying didn't matter.”
Devra Ashby of D-11 Communications quoted Hunger Free Colorado statistics that “food-insecure households” in the state include 22 percent of Colorado kids, and that there's been an 86 percent increase since 2002.
The “Food Security” topic in Wikipedia (the online encyclopedia) notes that “insecurity” statistics are based not on actual hunger but “anxiety” about it, as expressed in responses to questions in the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. Anxiousness can be “that the household budget is inadequate to buy enough food, inadequacy in the quantity or quality of food eaten by adults and children in the household, and instances of reduced food intake or consequences of reduced food intake for adults and for children,” the topic states, in summarizing the survey questions.
Midland Elementary Principal Jeremy Cramer and Bristol Elementary Principal Manuel Ramsey said they have been talking with D-11 officials district in preparation for their respective starting days. “I'm excited that all the kids can have breakfast if they want to,” Cramer said.
“Academic time is precious,” Ramsey observed, but pledged that during the 10 minutes, “we'll have as much learning and motivational time as we can.”
Westside Pioneer article